Abuja: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group’s newspaper identified a new leader of the group’s West Africa Province, popularly known as Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremists, who promised not to attack mosques or markets used by Muslims.
The Arabic-language newspaper al-Nabaa on Wednesday identified Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new “Wali,” a title previously used to describe long-time leader Abubakar Shekau. The report did not mention Shekau’s current status.
CBS News’ Debora Patta reports that the most likely explanation is that there has been a split in Boko Haram, and that al-Barnawi is the leader of the new, ISIS-linked faction. That faction may be the breakaway group known as Ansaru, which has a reputation for kidnapping foreigners and which distanced itself from Boko Haram because it disagreed with the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially Muslims.
Analyst Jacob Zenn also said the announcement could indicate a coup by Boko Haram breakaway group Ansaru, adding that it followed a trend of extremist Islamic groups moving away from al-Qaeda to ISIS.
Al-Barnawi isn’t particularly well known, Patta reports. He has been seen as a Boko Haram spokesperson before, but there has long been speculation that Shekau was either no longer in charge of the group, or in charge of a smaller faction.