Islamic State may have influenced a new leadership set up in Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group that has pledged allegiance to it, according to the jihadist group’s online weekly Al-Naba.
“In his first interview with Al-Naba magazine since his appointment as governor of west Africa, Sheikh Abu Musab al-Barnawi talks about the history of jihad in this region,” read the 41st edition of the magazine, published on Tuesday.
In the interview, Barnawi makes no clear reference to the movement’s leader Abubakar Shekau, except for a mention of Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance to IS in March 2015.
Speculation over the fate of Shekau and his alleged disappearance has been rife in recent months.
He last appeared in a video posted on YouTube in March, looking weak, and saying: “For me, the end has come.”
In the video devoid of his usual confidence talk and defiant bluster, the terror group leader rejected the rumours of his death but signalled that his time as chief of the jihadist group may be coming to an end.
The video also lacked the usual taunts and denunciation of political leaders of previous videos.
Since Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS, Barnawi has appeared in several videos distributed by Boko Haram, claiming responsibility for successive attacks, earning him the reputation of group spokesman, experts say.
A Nigerian security analyst said he believed Shekau is alive, but that ISIS may be seeking to clean up Boko Haram’s reputation among jihadists, by getting rid of a leader seen as disorganised and unreliable.
Barnawi may have taken over from Shekau, said Yan St-Pierre, a specialist on jihadist groups who works for the Modern Security Consulting Group (Mosecon).
Under Shekau’s leadership, “Boko Haram has lost its prestige and become difficult to control. Today Boko Haram is divided into several little groups.”
Shekau became Boko Haram leader after the Nigerian security forces executed the group’s founding chief Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, sparking an insurgency that has left 20,000 people dead and forced 2.6 million people to flee their homes.