Boko Haram fractured & weakened, analysis says

NORTHEAST NIGERIA (BP) -- A disputed report by the Islamic State group that it has appointed a new leader for Boko Haram in Nigeria indicates Boko Haram is fractured and weakened, BBC News said in an analysis today (Aug. 4).

Abubakar Shekau
Screen capture from
Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader since 2009, released an audio message Aug. 3 saying he is still in charge of the terrorists, hours after IS proclaimed Abu Musab al-Barnawi the new leader of Boko Haram, identified as the IS West Africa Province, BBC News said.

In a 10-minute audio message released in both Arabic and Hausa, Shekau accused al-Barnawi of trying to stage a coup and described al-Barnawi as polytheistic.

"Boko Haram has split before but this is the most serious division to date," the BBC said in its news analysis. "Abubakar Shekau's outburst clearly shows that there are deep disagreements, which could translate into clashes between the foot soldiers loyal to the two leaders.

"It is also a sign of the weakness of the group, possibly foreshadowing an eventual collapse," the BBC said of the group that is using violence in an attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate government across Nigeria.

Despite the rift, al-Barnawi pledged in the IS newspaper al-Nabaa to refocus Boko Haram attacks exclusively on Christians and churches, abandoning attacks on such targets as crowded public markets in predominantly Muslim areas, the Associated Press reported.

Based on a translation of al-Nabaa by terrorist watch group SITE Intelligence, al-Barnawi pledged "booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those (Christians) who we find from the citizens of the cross."

Al-Barnawi is likely aligned with Ansaru, a group that split with Boko Haram in objection to the indiscriminant killing of civilians including Muslims, analyst Jacob Zenn told AP.

Al-Barnawi's supposed leadership comes just a week after the July 26 IS slaughter of a Catholic priest in Normandy, France, which was described as the first known attack on a church in the West by IS. The 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel was killed in a knife attack by two teenagers who had pledged allegiance to IS. Intelligence experts called the attack a major shift for IS, targeting nations active in a U.S.-led coalition against the group in Iraq and Syria.

Concentrated in northeastern Nigeria, Boko Haram surpassed IS in 2014 as the most deadly terrorist group in the world, killing more people in terrorist attacks that year than IS, according to the 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI). The GTI attributed more than 6,644 deaths to Boko Haram in 2014. The 6,073 IS killed in terrorist attacks in the same year does not include at least 20,000 deaths attributed to IS in combat, according to the report.

Boko Haram has killed nearly 25,000 Christians and Muslims, including civilians and soldiers, in terrorist attacks since 2009, and has displaced at least 2.2 million people, according to official estimates. Fulani herdsmen, who have historically targeted Christian farmland to graze their cattle, have aligned with Boko Haram in targeting Christians, Morning Star News has reported.

According to the Jubilee Campaign 2015 Report on Nigeria, 42 percent of all attacks in Nigeria in 2014 by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen were on Christian communities, while 35.4 percent targeted random civilians. Other attacks in 2014 targeted Muslim communities (6.8 percent), the government (10.9 percent), schools (4.1 percent), and media and medical personnel (0.5 percent), the Jubilee Campaign reported.

The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative said in its June 2016 report "Nigeria: Fractured and Forgotten," that Boko Haram violence has created a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in Nigeria that is the gravest in the world.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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