Boko Haram remains a threat despite the split

The Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, last July, has warned the United Nations Security Council on the threat to the stability of the region represented by the Boko Haram. However, the Nigerian extremist group, already in trouble for the offensive of the joint multinational force MNJTF, may have become further weakened. For some time, the organization has been marked by internal strife, which in recent weeks have revealed all their consistency in undermining the balance.

REUTERS/Joe Penney

The degree of division that is unfolding within Boko Haram was made manifest on August 2, when number 41 of “Al Nab’a”, one of the Islamic State's magazines, is published an interview with Abu Musab al -Barnawi.

Answering the questions, al-Barnawi claimed to be the Boko Haram’s new ‘wali’, or rather the wali of the ‘wilaya’ of West Africa of the Islamic State (ISWAP), a name that is adopted after its accession to Caliphate, on 7 March 2015.

Abubakar Shekau’s reply was immediate. Two days later, through an audio message, he claimed to be still the leader of Boko Haram, while at the same time reiteraring total allegiance to the caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

At this point, it is becoming evident that there is an internal rift between the extremist Shekau faction, which continues to refer to the millenarian logic inherited from the group's founder and spiritual leader Mohammed Yusuf, and what should now be the ‘majority’ wing, which is putting forward the logic of terrorism, aiming to strengthen ties with the Islamic State.

A ‘de facto’ split is also exemplified at the regional level with Shekau loyalist still settled in historical Boko Haram strongholds, such as forest and Sambisa Mandara mountains, and followers of the Daesh ideology concentrated on the islands and along the banks of lake Chad.

They respond to the new faction leader al-Barnawi, who, since January 2015, was listed as the spokesperson of Boko Haram. According to Nigerian press reports; he is the son of the founder himself, Yusuf, who was killed in July 2009, after being captured by security forces.

The causes of the fracture also emerge in the interview with al-Barnawi that appeared on Al Nab’a, in which the new boss tries to soften the image of Boko Haram, pledging to end the attacks on mosques and markets frequented by Muslims, that have become a brand of Nigerians jihadists.

It also rejects the claim that his fighters are ‘Kharijites’, a term used as a synonym for “extremists” and frequently used by al-Qaeda member to describe those who have joined to the Islamic State.

In his reply Shekau criticizes al-Barnawi for not being radical enough, arguing that he refuses to accuse other Muslims of apostasy even when they are clearly guilty.

The Caliphate, on the other hand, condemns the extreme radicalism demonstrated by Shekau in leading the organization. A similar case had already appeared with Abu Omar al-Kuwaiti, an ISIS ally in Syria, before he was executed by the militants of the Caliphate for ‘takfirism’.

The divisions that are affecting Boko Haram were nonetheless been disclosed, last June, when General Thomas Waldhauser, talking before the Congress of the United States,  reported a split within the Islamist group.

The commander of AFRICOM stated that about half of the Boko Haram members would be merged into another group. In the hearing, the General also talked about the attempts to reconcile the two factions operated by the same jihadist organization. Recently, a senior Nigerian army officer talked about open dissension within the group.

In identifying the reasons, which led the Islamic State to replace Shekau with al-Barnawi, Martin Ewi, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, believes that the Caliphate would deliberately put aside Shekau in order to safeguard the integrity of the group, already split from within for some time.

It should be added, that the Nigerian analyst and blogger Fulan Nasrullah, reports that Mohammad Daud, a member of the inner circle of Yusuf and the students responsible for internal security known as Amniyah, disagreed with the decision to remain faithful to ISIS and would have left the group along with hundreds of his supporters. According to Nasrullah he would be willing to negotiate with the Nigerian government.

On the whole, it is a very detailed internal feud, which could be a positive turning point for the MNJTF in the fight against Boko Haram, especially if the factions come into direct conflict.

However, given that Shekau declaredhe would remain faithful to the Caliphate and that he has no intention to fight the rival group, it seems a more likely hypothesis that there will be new escalation of violence, in which the factions will fight for supremacy by unleashing attacks with the objective of reaping the greatest possible number of victims.


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