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IS Claims Boko Haram Has New Leader


FILE - In this file image taken from video released Oct. 31, 2014, by Boko Haram, shows Abubakar Shekau, center, the then-leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group.

FILE - In this file image taken from video released Oct. 31, 2014, by Boko Haram, shows Abubakar Shekau, center, the then-leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group.

There may be a changing of the guard atop the West African terror group Boko Haram.

The latest edition of the weekly online magazine published by IS makes reference to Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the current "governor" of Boko Haram. This would mean the end of the reign of longtime leader Abubakar Shekau and a promotion of al-Barnawi, who had previously been a "spokesman" for the group.

In an audio message released after the online publication, Shekau seemed to say he was still vying to play a leadership role and keep the group unified.

"Understand that we have not been broken apart and we don't agree in causing chaos in society. We will live according to the Qur'an and the prophetic teachings and traditions as it is made compulsory. This is what we stand for, and we're still Jama'atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda'Awati Wal Jihad [Boko Haram]," he said.

Shekau also made reference to sending eight letters to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi complaining about al-Barnawi, but receiving no response.

FILE - This image taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram in May 2014 shows Abubakar Shekau.

FILE - This image taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram in May 2014 shows Abubakar Shekau.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to IS in March 2015. Earlier this year, Shekau made a vague allusion to playing a diminished role when he said in a video, "For me, the end has come."

Shekau took command of the terror group in 2009 after the death of founder Muhammad Yusuf. He is blamed for Boko Haram's increasingly violent tactics that often target civilians.

Competing ideologies?

A Nigerian security analyst, retired Air Commodore Ahmed Tijjani Baba Gamawa, said the group may now be looking to change its approach while its forces are losing ground on the battlefield.

"There are strong indications that the two contending leaders have different ideologies on how to run the group," Gamawa said.

However, he downplayed the group's threat, suggesting that Boko Haram is weakening.

"When was the last time you heard that the group has launched an attack in a mosque, market or in hospitals? It has been months since we last heard Shekau coming out to speak. These are all indications that they are losing the battle and they have been weakened," he said.

There have been calls in Nigeria to take advantage of the rift inside Boko Haram and for the Nigerian government to open negotiations with the group. But Gamawa said he believes that approach is not needed.

"I don't agree with this idea," Gamawa said, "because other past governments have made [a] similar effort to bring the group to a negotiating table, but to no avail."

He added that because the government is winning the war militarily, there is no need to invite Boko Haram to the negotiating table.

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    Salem Solomon

    Salem Solomon is a journalist and web producer at Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service, where she reports in English, Amharic and Tigrigna. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Poynter.org, Reuters and The Tampa Bay Times. Salem researches trends in analytics and digital journalism, and her data-driven work has been featured in VOA’s special projects collection.

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