'Hardline takeover' blamed for latest Boko Haram violence

2018-09-19 06:01
File: AFP

File: AFP

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The execution of a kidnapped aid worker and the apparent death of a senior factional leader have sparked fears of an upsurge in Boko Haram violence in northeast Nigeria.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday announced that one of its employees, midwife Saifura Khorsa, had been killed after more than six months in captivity.

That followed reports last week that hardliners in the Boko Haram splinter group, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), had killed their de facto leader, Mamman Nur.

Recent weeks have seen a marked increase in ISWAP attacks on the military, which security analysts tracking the conflict said was a sign of renewed strength and organisation.

But sources with a deep knowledge of ISWAP activities and talks with the government said it also followed the death of Nur, who was allegedly killed because of his more moderate approach.

ISWAP has previously vowed to hit only military and government "hard" targets, unlike the faction headed by Abubakar Shekau, which has repeatedly attacked civilians.

"The death of Mamman Nur has lifted the lid off the radical elements in the group, who prefer indiscriminate violence as carried out by Shekau," said one source.

"The case of Saifura Khorsa is just the beginning of more nightmares to come," he told AFP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The source said Nur, the alleged mastermind of an August 2011 Boko Haram attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja that killed 25, was seen as a more "stabilising" element.

"Now that hardliners have killed him and taken over control, they are running berserk, as was demonstrated in the execution of Saifura Khorsa," he added.

'Unforgiveable' betrayal

Nigeria's government has made no official comment about Nur, while analysts suggest that at the very least, events indicate possible rifts within ISWAP over operations and ideology.

The sources said opposition to Nur had built up since the February kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls from the remote town of Dapchi, in Yobe state.

All but one of the students - the only Christian among them - were brought back just over a month later. A second source involved in talks for their release said no ransom was paid.

"The only condition they (the government) gave was for troops to hold temporary ceasefire and safe passage to allow them to bring back the hostages," he added.

A third source said Nur's lieutenants were unhappy at the lack of a potentially lucrative payment and a lull in attacks during back-channel talks with the authorities.

"Behind his back they plotted to depose him," he added.

Nur was said to have been detained with other fighters loyal to him soon after the release of the schoolgirls.

A UN claim in August that a "large ransom payment" then convinced hardliners he had cheated them, the sources added.

"Betrayal is an unforgiveable crime punishable with death in Boko Haram and Nur was put to death on the belief that he took the ransom and hid it," said one.

"We are now likely to see more escalation of violence from these radical elements," he added.

'Unprecedented escalation'

With Nur apparently out of the way, the position of the official ISWAP leader Abu Mus'ab al-Barnawi is likely to be under threat.

Al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram's founder Mohammed Yusuf, was widely seen as just a figurehead, with Nur directing day-to-day operations.

The more radical commanders have reportedly chosen a new leader they call "Amirul Jaish", which translates roughly from Arabic to "commander in chief", the sources added.

Internal dissent about the Dapchi abduction and Nur's alleged demise provide context for the killing of Khorsa, who was seized with two colleagues during an attack in March.

One source said fighters had made an "outrageous (ransom) demand that was just insane" for their release but it was ignored.

"The execution of Saifura Khorsa was meant to send a message that their demand should be met. It is a clear warning," he added.

ISWAP is dominant around the shores of Lake Chad in Borno while the Shekau-led faction is concentrated in rural areas of the state.

Talk of a possible rapprochement between the two sides have circulated on and off for months in the conflict, which has left more than 27,000 dead in northeast Nigeria since 2009.

One source said regardless of any truce "an unprecedented escalation of violence" was likely, even as the authorities maintain the group is weakened to the point of defeat.

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Read more on:    boko haram  |  nigeria  |  west africa

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