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Developments of Boko Haram: Leadership Crisis, Possible Change in Group’s Strategy, a New Video, and Failed Negotiations for the Chibok Captives
A battle of personalities between Abubakar Shekau (L) and Abu Musab Al-Barnawi (R) for the militant group’s legitimacy (Daily Trust)
This week’s snapshot focuses on the recent developments of Boko Haram in West Africa. Abubakar Shekau, also known by the alias Darul Akeem wa Zamunda Tawheed, or Darul Tawheed, took over Boko Haram after its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed in Nigerian police custody in 2009. Shekau unleashed a strategy of unbridled terror, treating Muslim villages that did not join his organization as legitimate targets. Under him, Boko Haram officially pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in MAR15.
But, in AUG16, the IS’s newspaper al-Naba published an interview with Abu Musab al-Barnawi that made no mention of Shekau. Instead, it referred to Barnawi, who is rumored to be a son of the Nigerian group’s founder, Yusuf, as the new “governor” of the West Africa Province. Shekau responded by accusing his rival, Barnawi, of apostasy and by complaining that he gained the support of Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi through deception. In an implicit criticism of Boko Haram’s strategy until now, Barnawi told al-Naba that the jihadists should focus on combating Nigeria’s Christians—a target largely ignored by Shekau in recent years. On 30AUG, the commander of the fight against Boko Haram, Lucky Irabor, announced that the military will root the group out from its remaining locations within weeks. On 14SEP, Boko Haram released a new video without Shekau, lending weight to claims by the army he was gravely wounded in an air strike. Amid infighting, the terrorist group continues to cause turmoil in West Africa, killing Nigerien soldiers near the southern border and stalling negotiations over the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls.
News summary of events during the week of 12SEP16 – 19SEP16
12SEP: A Boko Haram ambush in the southeastern Diffa region near the border with Nigeria killed five and injured six Niger soldiers. (AFP)
13SEP: Boko Haram released a new video without leader Abubakar Shekau, lending weight to claims by the Nigerian army he was gravely wounded in an air strike. (AFP)
15SEP: Nigeria’s defense department referred to a Boko Haram threat to kill President Buhari as a joke not to be believed. (UPI)
16SEP: The Nigerian government described for the first time their failed efforts to negotiate the release of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped two and a half years ago. (NYT)
16SEP: Nigerien defense ministry spokesman Moustapha Ledru said that thirty-eight Boko Haram fighters were killed during military search operations carried out over the past week by Niger and Chad troops in the Diffa region of southeast Niger. (AFP)
16SEP: The Nigerian army released 566 persons, including 355 babies, held by Boko Haram in camps across northeastern Borno state. (Bloomberg)
18SEP: Local residents said at least eight people were killed outside a church in a suspected Boko Haram attack carried out by gunmen on bicycles in Kwamjilari, Borno state. (AFP)
19SEP: Soldiers rescued 43 cattle farmers abducted by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the country’s northeast. (DPA)
19SEP: Borno State Commissioner for Education Inuwa Kubo said that public secondary schools in the northeastern state of Borno will be reopened 26SEP, two years after authorities ordered their closure due to Boko Haram’s insurgency. (Xinhua)
19SEP: Nigeria concluded plans to train over 11,000 ex-militants in agriculture as part of moves to diversify the economy. (Xinhua)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about recent actions of Boko Haram
@ChiefBisongEta1 – Chief Bisong Etahoben, Investigative Journalist, African Investigative Publishing Collective
@Nwanyi_abagana – Modupe Odele, Postgraduate Legal Fellow, Columbia Centre on Sustainable Investment
@pastoralist1 – Muhammadu Bello, Secretary General, Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET)
@RabeAbubakarDDI – Brigade General R. Abubakar, Director of Defence Information, Nigeria Military
@tobylanzer – Toby Lanzer, Assistant-Secretary General in the Sahel, United Nations
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding Boko Haram’s activities
Jibrin Ibrahim, Director, Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja
“Shekau’s approval of attacking Muslims indiscriminately led to a situation of significant loss of support within the Muslim community. The fact that he could kill Muslims praying in a mosque convinced the locals that he is not really fighting for Islam…The return to systematic attacks against Christians would be very dangerous. It could lead to a wider confessional conflict.”
“Behind Boko Haram’s Split: A Leader Too Radical for Islamic State”, WSJ, 15SEP16
Jacob Zenn, Analyst, Jamestown Foundation
“The main dispute centers on the Islamic principle of takfir, the categorization of others as non-believers. [Mr Shekau justifies his murder of Muslims on the basis that anyone refusing to engage in jihad is an apostate. Mr al-Barnawi’s lot are more prone to tolerate Muslims who choose not to fight.]”
“Boko Haram Breaks Up”, The Economist, 11AUG16
John Campbell, Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies, Council on Foreign Relations; former US Ambassador to Nigeria (2004-2007)
“The personal struggle between Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi reflects in part the rivalry between Boko Haram and a splinter group, “Ansaru,” and are part of a complex, intra-Muslim conflict across the Sahel, including competition between rival al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State.”
“Civil War Within Nigerian Islam”, The Cipher Brief, 25AUG16
Atta Barkindo, Nigerian Insurgency Specialist and PhD candidate, The School of Oriental and African Studies at University of London
“Shekau was in control of territory and of the wealth, Barnawi won’t be able to acquire the resources that Shekau already controls — and the way these guys operate is they always go to where the resources are.”
“ISIS’ deadliest ally has started fighting itself”, Business Insider 15SEP16
Matthew Henman, Editor, IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center (JTIC)
“Before Boko Haram allied with the Islamic State, it did carry out cross-border attacks outside their core territory of north eastern Nigeria…The Islamic State model is predicated upon the capture and maintenance of territory under the motto ‘remaining and expanding,’ something Boko Haram has not been entirely successful in doing since its pledge of allegiance was accepted in March 2015…However, the apparent attempt and potential success in holding Bosso may be indicative of a renewed focus on this aspect in a new area of operations.”
“Number of Cross-border Boko Haram Attacks Rose Since Islamic State Alliance, IHS Markit Says”, Business Wire, 15SEP16
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the recent activities of Boko Haram
1. 7 Niger soldiers killed by Boko Haram: army
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 14 September 2016
Seven Niger soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in two separate attacks by Boko Haram Islamists over the past week, the army has said.
The two attacks took place in the southeastern Diffa region near the border with Nigeria, according to a military statement released late Tuesday.
2. Ignore Boko Haram threat to kill president, Nigeria’s defense HQ says
Media: United Press International (UPI)
Byline: Ed Adamczyk
Date: 15 September 2016
ABUJA, Nigeria, Sept. 15 (UPI) — Nigeria’s defense department referred to a Boko Haram threat to kill the president as a joke not to be believed.
Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, Nigerian Defense Headquarters’ acting director of defense information, reacted to a 13-minute-long Boko Haram video posted online, in which a leader of the Islamist insurgent group threatens to kill or capture President Muhammadu Buhari, by calling it a sign of weakness.
3. Behind Boko Haram’s Split: A Leader Too Radical for Islamic State
Media: Wall Street Journal
Byline: Yaroslav Trofimov
Date: 15 September 2016
Some people can be too extreme even for Islamic State.
The self-proclaimed caliphate’s biggest and deadliest franchise outside the Middle East, the “West Africa Province” also known as Boko Haram, fractured in recent weeks over Islamic State’s decision to replace its notorious leader, Abubakar Shekau.
4. Nigeria admits failed Chibok girls swap deals Nigeria admits failed Chibok girls swap deals
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 16 September 2016
Nigeria opened negotiations with Boko Haram over the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls last year, but the talks were derailed due to a split in the extremist group, a minister said Friday.
Speaking at a press conference in the capital Abuja, information minister Lai Mohammed said the Department of State Services (DSS) started negotiations with the Islamists in July 2015.
5. Nigeria Describes 3 Failed Negotiations With Boko Haram on Kidnapped Girls
Media: New York Times
Byline: Dionne Searcey and Chris Stein
Date: 17 September 2016
DAKAR, Senegal — Two and a half years after more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a school in northeastern Nigeria, the government on Friday described for the first time the failed efforts to negotiate for their release.
Nigerian officials revealed that talks had been underway since July 2015 between the government and Boko Haram terrorists to gain the release of the girls taken from a school in Chibok. The talks began shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari took office.
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