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Nigeria's Boko Haram names new leader

August 3, 2016

The Nigerian radical Islamic group Boko Haram may have a new leader. Questions have now arisen about the fate of the group's former chief (pictured).

Bisheriger Anführer der nigerianischen Miliz Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The "Islamic State" affiliated Boko Haram's new leader is Abu Musab al-Barnawi, according to the jihadist online weekly al-Naba.

In an interview with the IS weekly, al-Barnawi is referred to as the new governor of the IS' West African affiliate.

He made no mention of the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, apart from a segment discussing Boko Haram's March 2015 pledge of allegiance to IS.

Barnawi has acted as the group's spokesman and a senior military commander since at least March 2015.

The apparent leadership change has sparked speculation over the fate of Shekau, who last appeared in a video in March. In the video he looked weak and said: "For me, the end has come."

It is uncertain if Shekau is dead, unable to lead due to sickness, or if he was replaced amid internal feuding.

There has been speculation of an internal rift within Boko Haram. In June, a senior US general said a group within Boko Haram had split from Shekau over his failure to follow guidance from IS.

Ryan Cummings, the director of the South African risk analysis group Signal Risk, told DW that much is still unknown about the organizational structure of the Islamic State in West Africa Province and Boko Haram.

"The Islamic State in West Africa Province could be a larger organization of which Boko Haram is only one of the smaller factions. This could still indicate that Abubakar Shekau is a leader within the Boko Haram movement, but that he is second in command or possibly just a sub-leader to Mr al-Barnawi who would oversee a more regional position within the movement," he said.

"We have no evidence that Islamic State has been providing any form of logistical or operational patronage to Boko Haram," he added.

Shekau became the group's leader in 2009 after its founder Mohammed Yusuf was killed by Nigerian security forces. He was known for extreme brutality and erratic behavior.

The seven year conflict has left 20,000 people dead and forced 2.6 million people from their homes.

Symbolbild Nigeria Bama Flüchtlinge
Some 2.6 million people have been forced from their homes during the Boko Haram insurgency.Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Ola

Last year the group had carved out a piece of territory the size of Belgium in northeast Nigeria, but has since been pushed back by the Nigerian military.

The conflict has spilled into Cameroon, Niger and Chad, all of which have joined Nigeria in fighting the group. The group regularly carries out attacks on security forces, bombs markets and mosques, and kidnaps.

cw/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)