Impact on Boko Haram Remains Unclear After Leader of Splinter Group is ArrestedApril 21, 2016 in Boko Haram, Nigeria
Nigeria’s security services have hailed the arrest of the leader of a Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru, Khalid al-Barnawi, stating that it will lead them to other senior Islamist commanders operating in the northern region of the country.
Barnawi, who has been designated a global terrorist by the United States since 2012, was detained on 1 April along with three others in Kogi state capital, Lokoja. During his arrest, he was found with four Thursday satellite phones, with a source indicating that the phones “provided several leads” to “high-profile Boko Haram and Ansaru elements” in the capital, Abuja, Lokoja and the central city of Jos. According to one security source, “the arrest of Barnawi is a huge success and will have a profound effect on counter-terrorism operations in Nigeria and beyond,” adding, “he is a known transnational terrorist and the backbone of all al-Qaeda affiliate groups in West Africa.” Another source further indicated that “this has been our biggest breakthrough against terrorism in Nigeria ever,” adding, “we still have other high-ranking terrorists on our radar based on the information gathered from the phones of Barnawi and his three comrades. We will rope them in at the right time.”
The capture of Barnawi is definitely a success for Nigerian intelligence, with the Department of State services (DSS) calling him “a trained terrorist commander” who also recruited for al-Qaeda affiliates. He is also accused of masterminding a string of kidnappings of Westerners between 2011 and 2013. In a statement released on 9 April, which accompanied a mug shot of Barnawi, the DSS disclosed that “this arrest is a major milestone in the counter-terrorism fight.”
While security analysts agree that he is the most high-profile capture since the start of the Islamist insurgency in 2009, it remains unclear what effect it will ultimately have on operations on the ground. Boko Haram has been severally affected by an aggressive fight back from the Nigerian military and since January, the militant group has lost territory and its capacity to mount conventional attacks. President Muhammadu Buhari has also gone so far as to say that the militants were “technically” defeated despite suicide and bomb attacks continuing in northeastern Nigeria and in neighbouring Cameroon and Niger. However Barnawi’s arrest, who trained in Sudan, Afghanistan and with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), is only part of a larger organization that continues to operate despite setbacks. Furthermore, Ansaru’s terrorist activities likely will not be affected by his capture.
There was also confusion last month when Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau indicated in a video that his time in charge of the group was running out. The video, however was following a week later but another one, which did not feature Shekau but which maintained that he was still in charge and dismissed any suggestion of surrender.