The Nigerian military announced the death of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the head of the West African branch of the Islamic State group.
“He is dead and remains dead,” said Chief of the Defense Staff General Lucky Irabor.
General Irabor gave no details of the circumstances of Barnawi’s death, which was first reported in September.
The province of the Islamic State of West Africa (Iswap) has not commented on the allegations.
Iswap is considered the most powerful jihadist group in Nigeria since the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau earlier this year.
Since then, thousands of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered both to the army and, it seems, to Iswap.
Who was Barnawi?
Little is known about Barnawi, including his age and appearance.
Born Habib Yusuf, he is believed to be the eldest son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf.
He was seen as a relatively moderate man, shunning Boko Haram’s more extreme policies such as the use of children as suicide bombers and indiscriminate targeting of Muslims.
After his father’s death in custody in 2009, Shekau was appointed the group’s new leader.
Barnawi served as a spokesperson for Boko Haram, but frequently clashed with Shekau and other senior leaders and in 2013 defected to Ansaru, a branch of Boko Haram linked to al-Qaeda.
Despite their differences, the two groups sometimes worked closely together.
To help raise the international profile of Boko Haram, Shekau aligned the group with the Islamic State (IS) in 2015. The following year, IS appointed Barnawi as the new wali (in Arabic for governor), provoking a major internal feud. Analysts believe the change in leadership was prompted by ideological clashes between Shekau and the central leadership of ISIS.
The EI al-Nabaa newspaper published an interview with Barnawi in August 2016. In the article, he described the group’s battle with the West African states as a struggle against “apostates” and “crusaders”. “. He threatened, as a leader, to order the murder of Christians and the bombing of churches. But in a major shift in strategy for the group, he pledged to end indiscriminate attacks on mosques and markets.
The high-profile change in leadership was not welcomed by everyone, and Shekau accused Barnawi of plotting a coup.
As a result of these infighting, supporters of the Islamic State joined the separatist iswap, led by Barnawi, while Shekau remained at the head of Boko Haram. The groups have been staunch rivals ever since.
Iswap announced that Shekau died in May after fleeing a battle with Iswap fighters – choosing to detonate a suicide vest instead of surrendering. Iswap said the operation, in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest, was directly ordered by ISIS central chief Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.
According to Nigerian media outlet HumAngle, Barnawi shared the news of his death in an audio recording in June, claiming that Shekau had committed “unimaginable terrorism”.
“When it was time, Allah sent brave soldiers after receiving orders from the leader of the believers,” Barnawi reportedly said.
Later that month, suspected Boko Haram militants confirmed Shekau’s death in a video released by Nigerian news outlets and security analysts.
IS also confirmed details of Shekau’s death and boasted that “thousands” of Boko Haram fighters have since defected.
Under Barnawi’s leadership, Iswap has achieved territorial gains in northern Nigeria and the wider Chad Basin in recent years. It is also active in neighboring countries, notably in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Mali.
The group captured several military bases, obtaining weapons and supplies from regional military forces. Taxes on local residents also provided him with a source of income, as well as his involvement in business ventures like fishing.