Boko Haram wing affiliated to Islamic State sows new terror
LAGOS: A Boko Haram faction with ties to Islamic State has become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organised attacks.
Government forces have focused on crushing the best-known branch of the Islamist militant group whose leader Abubakar Shekau has led an eight-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in the north-east which has killed thousands.
But while Nigeria has claimed the capture of Shekau’s main base in the Sambisa forest and freed many of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his faction in April 2014 in Chibok town, a rival wing has developed the capacity to carry out attacks on a larger scale.
At least 37 people, including members of the team, rescuers from the military and vigilantes, died last week when security forces tried to free those being held by the Boko Haram faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi who is trying to thwart government efforts to explore for oil in the Lake Chad Basin.
That wing is better organised than the Shekau faction, which typically staged suicide bombings in mosques and markets, said Malte Liewerscheidt, a senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft consultancy group.
“The Shekau faction does not seem to have a clear ideology or any strategy.”
Liewerscheidt said that made it easier for al-Barnawi’s faction to recruit whereas Shekau’s faction was not trusted by locals.
And despite the assessment that it is less organised, Shekau’s faction has stepped up suicide bombings in the last few weeks, killing more than 110 people since June 1, according to a Reuters tally.
The combined attacks by the two wings marks a resurgence by the group, months after President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement in December that Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest had been captured.
Boko Haram, which has killed more than 20 000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes since 2009, split last year.
The division led by Shekau operates in the north-eastern Sambisa forest and usually deploys girls as suicide bombers.
But, since Islamic State named al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August last year, his Lake Chad faction has been moving fighters and ammunition across porous borders in north-east Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
The head of a private Nigerian security firm, who did not want to be named, said al-Barnawi’s Islamic State affiliation meant his wing benefited from sub-Saharan trade routes to ship weapons from lawless Libya where Islamic State was active.
His group has been planning a larger scale attack for some time, said a Western diplomat, speaking anonymously.
Boko Haram militants embrace and shake hands with Boko Haram prisoners, released in exchange for a group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive by Islamist militants, near Kumshe, Nigeria, in May.