A struggle within Nigeria’s Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is playing out in public, with a new leader named by the Islamic State group accusing the longtime leader of killing his own people and living in luxury while fighters’ babies starve.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, named by the Islamic State (IS) group last week as the new governor of its West Africa Province, alleges that Abubakar Shekau has killed fellow Muslims including his own fighters, neglected hungry women and children, and failed to provide food and weapons to his men. The audio message was apparently made Friday and posted by the New York-based Sahara Reporters, a Nigerian news group.
Shekau responded in a video posted on YouTube on Sunday, saying al-Barnawi is not qualified to lead the group but insisting that “we have not reneged on our loyalty to the leadership of (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi”, the IS group’s leader.
The video starts with an unidentified masked man in front of a large group of armed fighters announcing their refusal to follow Barnawi and calling Shekau “our leader”.
“I … Abubakar Ash-Shakawy [Shekau], the leader of Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, made it a duty for myself [to fight] Nigeria and the whole world,” Shekau says in the video, using the name the group has adopted since it declared allegiance to the IS group.
His absence in recent months had sparked speculation about his fate and whether he had been deposed as Boko Haram’s chief. But Shekau ridiculed suggestions that he was dead, and looked more composed and energetic than in previous appearances.
“I’m alive by the permission of Allah,” he said in his speech, delivered in both Arabic and Hausa, adding that he would only die when his time came.
Shekau, with his trademark bushy beard and camouflage, then threatens more attacks and warns Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, saying: “very soon you will see us inside your home, the presidential palace”.
The video, which was subsequently removed by YouTube for violating its standards, ends with Shekau firing repeatedly in the air, flanked by two fighters carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
More than 2 million displaced
The in-fighting threatens to further weaken the Boko Haram militants, who are on the run from a multinational force in northeast Nigeria. The seven-year-long Boko Haram uprising has killed more than 20,000 people, forced 2.2 million from their homes and spread across Nigeria’s borders.
Boko Haram remains deadly, though it has not had a spectacular attack in nearly a year. Its ambush last month on a humanitarian convoy led the United Nations to suspend aid to newly liberated but still dangerous areas of the northeast where aid groups say about half a million people are starving.
Shekau pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi in March 2015, giving the IS group its first franchise in sub-Saharan Africa.
Barnawi’s latest message says eight members of Shekau’s “kitchen Cabinet” have revolted. It also indicates that the indiscriminate killing of Muslims, with numerous suicide bombings and shootings in mosques, has lost Shekau the support of the IS group.
“You will see how he (Shekau) justifies and boasts of killing people. We are not killers like him,” Barnawi says.
Barnawi has promised not to attack mosques or markets frequented by Muslims, but he has vowed to attack Christians and churches.
He also claims to have spies among Shekau’s bodyguards who will kill him if anything happens to Barnawi.