Newspaper article International New York Times

Boko Haram May Have a New Leader ; Magazine for ISIS Hints at Promotion, without Mentioning Predecessor

Newspaper article International New York Times

Boko Haram May Have a New Leader ; Magazine for ISIS Hints at Promotion, without Mentioning Predecessor

Article excerpt

An online magazine identified a key Boko Haram member, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, as the "governor" of West Africa, indicating a major promotion.

A reference in a newly released Islamic State publication mentions an apparent new title for a key member of Boko Haram, raising questions about its leadership and future after a major Nigerian military offensive.

The report in the 41st edition of the Islamic State's Al Naba magazine, published Tuesday, carried an interview with a man it called Boko Haram's "governor" for West Africa, Abu Musab al- Barnawi, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant jihadist media.

The reference appears to indicate a promotion for Mr. Barnawi, who had been cited in a January 2015 video as a Boko Haram spokesman. The report made no mention of the status of Abubakar Shekau, who had been thought to be the leader of group. It said Mr. Barnawi did not condone attacks on mosques and markets frequented by Muslims -- a hallmark tactic of Boko Haram.

The report from the Islamic State led to a new round of speculation about the hierarchy and status of Boko Haram, which for the past year has been on the run from intensive strikes by the Nigerian military.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State last spring, about the same time the military ramped up its push. While it is unclear what kind of support the Islamic State has been giving Boko Haram, American military officials have said the two groups have started collaborating more closely.

Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group operating largely in northeast Nigeria, has killed thousands of people, sometimes deploying young boys and girls as suicide bombers to attack markets, mosques and even camps for those seeking protection from the group's fighters. Boko Haram began about 14 years ago as part of a movement against Western education that quickly spiraled into a yearslong murderous rampage that has spread across the nation's borders.

The military offensive against Boko Haram has been largely successful, driving fighters deep into the forest and securing villages that Boko Haram once held. In recent months fighters have been stealing cattle and food, an indication that they are scrambling for basics to survive. Military officials say many captured militants are scrawny and malnourished.

Some analysts say the report published on Tuesday might indicate that Boko Haram, under pressure for resources, is turning to the Islamic State for more help.

"Has this resource pressure created more of an opening for the Islamic State to a gain stronger foothold and influence?" asked Elizabeth Donnelly, deputy head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, a research institute in London. …

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