Reports have emerged from the remote northeastern region of Nigeria that in-fighting has broke out within militant group Boko Haram after the so-called Islamic State (IS) group announced a new leader to its Nigerian affiliate last month.
In August, IS announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram’s former founder Mohammed Yusuf, had replaced Abubakar Shekau at the head of the terrorist organization. Just days later however, Shekau insisted that he remained in charge of the Islamist group, whose insurgency has killed at least 20,000 people since 2009 and forced more than 2.6 million from their homes. In early September, sources in northeastern Nigeria reported that there have been deadly skirmishes between the two factions, even as the Nigerian military is seeking to finally rout the rebels in a sustained counter-offensive.
On 1 September, several fighters from Shekau’s camp were said to have been killed in two separate gunbattles that erupted with IS-backed Barnawi gunmen in the Monguno area of Borno state, near Lake Chad. While the Nigerian military has declined to comment on the reported in-fighting, one locate who lives in the area disclosed that “the Barnawi faction launched an offensive against the Shekau faction who were camped in the villages of Yele and Arafa,” adding, “in Yele, the assailants killed three people from the Shekau camp, injured one and took one with them, while several were killed in Arafa.” The attack prompted residents of Arafa to flee. The local also disclosed that fighters from Barnawi camp had the previous day attacked gunmen loyal to Shekau in Zuwa village in nearby Marte district, killing an unspecified number, adding that “the Barnawi fighters told villagers after each attack that they were fighting the other camp because they had derailed from the true jihad and were killing innocent people, looting their property and burning their homes.” News of the factional clashes has been slow to emerge because of the destroyed telecommunications infrastructure in northeastern Nigeria.
Since the death of Mohammed Yusuf in police custody in 2009, Shekau has led Boko Haram, waging a deadly, indiscriminate guerrilla war that has overwhelmingly targeted civilians in the three main northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Within these states, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted mosques, churches, markets and bus stations while hit-and-run attacks have destroyed remote villages and have killed and maimed thousands of residents. Thousands of people, many of them women and young girls, have been kidnapped, with the widely most known hostage taking occurring in April 2014, when more than 200 schoolgirls were taken from the northeastern town of Chibok in an attack that sparked international outrage. In many videos and audio recordings that have been released over the years, Shekau has justified the attacks against the secular state, those who support it and anyone who does not share his radical interpretation of Islam. In March 2015, he pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and changed the group’s name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However over the past year, there have been growing tensions within the group, and experts have suggested that the indiscriminate killings of civilians, coupled with Shekau’s “dictatorial” style, including secret killings of dissenting commanders, have caused a rift. This was evident shortly after his nomination, with Barnawi making a point of critiquing Shekau’s leadership and lambasting him for targeting ordinary Muslims.
On Saturday, a least 65 people were killed during an attack by Islamist militant group Boko Haram near the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri.
Security officials have disclosed that the remains of a dozen victims were burnt beyond recognition in Saturday’s attack when militants opened fire on residents, set fire to houses and targeted a crowd with suicide bombers. A Nigerian military spokesman, Colonel Mustapha Ankas, disclosed that Boko Haram militants attacked the community of Dalori, which is located about 5 kilometres (3 miles) east of Maiduguri in Borno state. He added that the insurgents entered Dalori in two cars and on motorcycles and opened fire on residents and burned down houses. Saturday’s incident was the third attack this week suspected to have been carried out by the insurgent group. It is also the most deadly.
Since it began loosing control of territory, Boko Haram has reverted to hit-and-run attacks, targeting villages as well as suicide bombings on places of worship or markers.
On Friday, in neighboring Adamawa state, a suicide bomber believed to be a Boko Haram militant killed ten people and at least 12 were killed on Wednesday in an attack that targeted the Borno state village of Chibok, from where over 200 schoolgirls were abducted in 2014.
In recent months, the number of deadly attacks carried out by Islamic extremists has increased across Africa, which has prompted questions about the resurgence of armed groups that operate in the region.
- 21 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab fighters stormed and took over a beachfront restaurant in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. When the siege was over, more than 20 people had been killed in the attack.
- 15 January 2016 – Gunmen stormed a café popular with foreigners in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. They fired at people and set the café ablaze and then attacked a nearby hotel. At least thirty people were killed after a more than 12-hour siege. The North African branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility, stating that fighters from al-Murabitoun, an affiliated terror group, had carried out the assault.
- 15 January 2016 – Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked an African Union (AU) base in Somalia, killing an unknown number of Kenyan peacekeepers. Al-Shabaab has since claimed that it killed about 100 Kenyans, adding that they had also captured several soldiers. Kenyan authorities have not released a death toll. Kenya has provided a major contingent to the AU force that is fighting al-Shabaab and assisting the elected government of Somalia.
- 28 December 2015 – Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck a city and a town in northeastern Nigeria with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers. At least eighty people were killed in Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno.
- 20 November 2015 – Islamic extrmeists seized dozens of hostages at the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako. At least twenty people were killed along with two gunmen during the more than seven-hour siege. AQIM and al-Murabitoun claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was their first joint attack.
As President Muhammadu Buhari marked his first week in office, the death toll from two blasts in northeastern Nigeria climbed to 35 on Friday, raising the total number killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks to 82.
This week’s violence comes as President Buhari embarked on his first foreign trip since taking office, visiting neighbouring Chad and Niger, which along with Cameroon, are Nigeria’s key allies in the battle against Boko Haram’s on going uprising. During his trip, Buhari urged closer regional security cooperation, while thanking troops from Nigeria’s neighbours for their efforts to date. The newly elected Nigerian president has vowed to crush the militant group, however last weeks spate of bombings has highlighted the severity of the challenge.
Two blasts rocked northeastern Nigeria on Thursday, killing at least six people, just hours before President Muhammadu Buhari urged closer regional cooperation to defeat Boko Haram. According to officials, the first explosion occurred in the Borno state capital Maiduguri, which has been hit by a spate of bombings in recent days. The incident occurred when a truck carrying firewood rammed into a checkpoint outside a military barracks. Police and locals have reported that at least four soldiers were killed in this explosion, which one resident called a “suicide attack.” The second blast occurred at a busy market in Yola, the capital of neighbouring Adamawa state. At least two people were killed in the second incident and some 30 others were injured. While there was no claim of responsibility, both incidents will likely be blamed on Boko Haram. Just hours before these latest attacks, President Buhari arrived in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, for talks with his counterpart Idriss Deby on tackling Boko Haram. According to a statement from the office of the Chadian President, Deby has “reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability” to work with Nigeria.
At least eleven people were killed Wednesday in an explosion in Maiduguri. According to Danlami Ajaokuta, a civilian vigilante assisting that military against Boko Haram in the Baga Road area, “we have so far recovered six dead bodies. We are still working at the scene, so the casualties may rise.” Ajaokuta indicated that the blast, which occurred at 5:30 PM (1630 GMT), happened at a garage opposite a military unit and it appeared to have been caused by explosives that were left nearby. Since last Friday, Maiduguri, which has been a regular target for Boko Haram Islamists, has been hit four times.
On Tuesday, suspected Boko Haram militants launched a renewed attack on Maiduguri, just days after the military repelled an assault on the key city. At least thirteen people were killed Tuesday in a suicide attack at a busy cattle market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. According to Red Cross officials and locals, the blast in the Borno state capital occurred at around 1:00PM (1200 GMT) as traders were wrapping up business for the day. The northeast spokesman of the Nigerian Red Cross, Umar Sadiq, indicated that there were 13 dead and 24 injured who were taken to two city hospitals for treatment. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack, it bore the hallmarks of the group, with one official indicated that the victims were “carefully targeted,” adding “the bomber chose the most crowded part of the market and set off his bombs.” The attack came after Boko Haram militants again targeted Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades in the early hours of Tuesday after hitting the city in a similar attack on Saturday. Residents reported that the militants arrived in the Moronti area of the city by river during the early hours of Tuesday however they were unable to advance further because of wide ditches and embankments that were dug by soldiers around the city limits. According to locals, the militants then began shelling Ajillari Cross, which is located about three kilometres (2 miles) away. One local stated, “we were bombarded by RPG’s (rocket-propelled grenades) by Boko Haram from Moronti…We all left our homes for fear of being hit inside. It was dark so we could see the trajectory of the RPG’s, which were red with heat… Soon afterwards, we saw troops in trucks moving towards Moronti and then a fighter jet also deployed not long afterwards.”
On Monday, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the newly elected president will this week make his first foreign trip since taking office.
Newly elected President Buhari is due to travel to neighboring Niger on Wednesday and to Chad on Thursday. Niger shares a border with Borno and Yobe states while Chad borders Borno state in Nigeria’s extreme northeast. According to Shehu Garba, the two-day trip will focus on “maters of security,” with the cooperation of Nigeria’s neighbors seen as being critical to ending the militant uprising, which since 2009 has claimed more than 15,000 lives.
President Buhari was sworn in last Friday and during his inaugural speech, he vowed to crush the insurgent group, which he described as “mindless” and “godless.” Despite this vow, Boko Haram carried out an attack some twelve hours after the new president took the oath of office, targeting homes in the key northeastern city of Maiduguri. Overnight on Saturday, the militants stormed the city, launching rocket-propelled grenades. Later, a suicide attack at a mosque in the city, which is the Borno state capital, killed at least twenty-six people and injured dozens others. On Sunday, the militants raided two towns in Borno’s neighboring state of Yobe, where they torched public buildings and looted food and fuel stores.
While former president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had previously complained that Nigeria’s neighbors were not doing enough in order to contain Boko Haram, as in some instances, the militants were able to flee military pursuit by crossing porous borders, a four-nation offensive launched in February, and which includes troops from Cameroon, has won significant victories, however there are growing fears that Boko Haram may be regrouping, particularly in the remote border areas which are difficult to patrol. In turn, both Chad and Niger have complained of a lack of cooperation from Nigeria, which has strained relations with all its neighbors. Chadian troops have also had to retake some towns from Boko Haram several times as Nigerian troops haven’t arrived in order to secure them.