Saturday, August 6, 2016
What led IS to select a new Boko Haram leader?
What led IS to select a new Boko Haram leader? (africanarguments). By Omar S. Mahmood.
Before this week’s announcement of a leadership change, IS had already begun to increase its focus on Boko Haram. And the specifics of its shift in communication could reveal some of the motivations behind the decision to replace Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since 2009.
On the one hand, there are some indications that some in Boko Haram objected to the relationship with IS from the start, and since the pledge, Shekau has overseen many attacks that IS has chosen not to promote – even during its recent increase of statements.
These assaults have included those committed by female suicide bombers – a trend that has generally declined but continued – along with violence against civilians and mosques. Furthermore, a US army official recently said that Shekau faced internal dissent over his refusal to adhere to an IS directive to halt the use of child suicide bombers.
By contrast, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the man announced as the new leader, clearly stated in his al-Naba interview that attacks against Muslim civilians, mosques, and markets will not be a staple of his leadership – he said he would focus more on Christian targets – though he remained silent on the issue of female suicide bombers.
The announcement therefore was likely to have been partly motivated by a desire to replace Shekau – who has quickly responded to the interview, insisting that he is still in charge – with a figure whose attack methodology may better facilitate IS propaganda.
On the other hand, however, there may also be wider strategies at play too. In addition to concerns about Boko Haram’s attack patterns under Shekau, another reason behind IS’ increased messaging and leadership change may be to challenge the broader narrative regarding the status of the Islamic State’s West Africa Province.
Since its admission into IS in March 2015, Boko Haram has lost the vast majority of its territory in the face of a renewed push by Nigerian security forces following the election of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The effects of this have been seen on many fronts. The group’s attack radius has shrunk amid an overall decline in large-scale violence. There have been rumblings of food shortages. Low morale has reportedly led to surrenders. And some displaced people have been repatriated to areas formerly under militant control.
In this sense, reinvigorated IS involvement in Boko Haram over the past two months may be aimed at presenting a contrasting story to this tale of decline, one in which the group is still capable of confronting and defeating conventional security forces.
This narrative has been enhanced by the visual depictions of the “spoils of war” – such as weapons, ammunition, and vehicles – as well as of fallen soldiers in IS publications.
And in his interview, al-Barnawi acknowledged that while the group has lost territory, this should not be considered a defeat and that it will return to a stronger position. Read the full story here.
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