Uncertainty over Boko Haram's leadership

Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau who last appeared in a video in March. (File, AP)
Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau who last appeared in a video in March. (File, AP)

Lagos - Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, may have a new leader, according to the jihadist group's online weekly Al-Naba.

In the interview, Barnawi makes no clear reference to the movement's leader Abubakar Shekau, except for a mention of Boko Haram's pledge of allegiance to ISIS in March 2015.

Since the pledge, Barnawi has appeared in several videos distributed by Boko Haram, claiming responsibility for successive attacks, earning him the reputation of group spokesperson, experts say.

Meanwhile, speculation over the fate -and alleged disappearance - of Shekau has been rife in recent months.

He last appeared in a video posted on YouTube in March, looking weak and saying: "For me, the end has come".

A Nigerian security analyst said he believed that Shekau was alive but that ISIS might be seeking to clean up Boko Haram's reputation among jihadists by getting rid of a leader seen as disorganised and unreliable.

Barnawi may have taken over from Shekau, said Yan St-Pierre, a specialist on jihadist groups who works for the Modern Security Consulting Group.

Shekau became Boko Haram leader after the Nigerian security forces executed the group's founding chief Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, sparking an insurgency that has left 20 000 people dead and forced 2.6m people to flee their homes.
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