MS Risk Blog

New Boko Haram Faction Proving to be Deadly

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A Boko Haram faction that has ties to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which is responsible for the kidnapping in July of a Nigerian oil prospecting team that led to at least 37 people being killed, has proven to be a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organized attacks.

In recent years, Nigerian government forces have focused their attentions on combatting the best-known branch of Boko Haram, with the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, leading an eight-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, which has killed thousands. However while Nigerian officials have claimed the capture of Shekau’s main base in the Sambisa Forest, and freed many of the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his group in April 2014 from the town of Chibok, a rival wing has been quietly developing its capacities to carry out deadly attacks on a larger scale. Shekau’s division, which operates in the northeastern Sambisa Forest has been known to deploy girls as suicide bombers, targeting mosques, markets and bus stations in northeastern Nigeria as well as in neighbouring states, including Cameroon and Niger.

In late July, at least 37 people, including members of th team, rescuers from the military and vigilantes, were killed when security forces tried to free those being held by the Boko Haram faction that is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who is trying to thwart government efforts to explore for oil in the Lake Chad Basin. The group has been assessed as being better organized the Shekau’s faction, though in recent weeks, Shekau’s faction has stepped up suicide bombings. According to a Reuters tally, since 1 June 2017, at least 113 people have been killed by its attacks. Furthermore, the combined attacks by the two wings have effectively marked a resurgence by Boko Haram, occuring months after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced in December 2016 that Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa Forest had been captured.

While Shekau has been Boko Haram’s most recognizable figure, since IS named al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August 2016, after the West African militants pledged allegiance the previous year, his Lake Chad-based faction has been rapidly moving fighters and ammunition across the porous borders of northeastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. According to the head of Nigerian security firm, al-Barnawi’s IS affiliation effectively means that his wing has been able to benefit from sub-Saharan trade routes to ship weapons from lawless Libya where IS is active. A Western diplomat has also disclosed that his group has been planning a larger scale attack for some time.