Strong indication emerged yesterday that the new Boko Haram leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, is the son of the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, according to a Boko Haram insider.
The source said that al-Barnawi, who is about 25 years-old was the second son of Yusuf, who founded the group in 2002 and was captured and executed after a clash with Nigerian security forces in 2009.
The insider said there was a split in the ranks of the Boko Haram terror group three months ago, which led to Barnawi, known as Habib Yusuf within the group, to leave the Sambisa forest where the sect are believed to be hiding out.
He re-emerged this week after he was introduced as the new leader of the terrorist sect in an interview in the ISIS’ magazine al-Naba. Boko Haram has long had links with ISIS, pledging allegiance to the group in March.
Similarly, al-Barnawi in an interview published by an online news portal, The Japan Times, had revealed that his major targets, is to bomb churches and kill Christians, while ending attacks on mosques and markets used by ordinary Muslims.
In the interview, al-Barnawi said under his leadership, the militants would work to seize back territory.
Even though al-Barnawi is now supposedly the leader of Boko Haram, the source said that the group’s long-time leader, Abubakar Shekau, still has the larger number of followers in the Sambisa forest and crucially has control of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
The schoolgirls are seen as a powerful bargaining chip for the terrorist group, whose base has been significantly weakened.
Western intelligence sources close to negotiations believe, however, that the defection of manpower and erosion of support leaves Shekau more exposed and could possibly lead to a breakthrough in the search for the abducted girls.
The Boko Haram source said that al-Barnawi was Boko Haram’s head of armoury before he fell out with Shekau and left with some followers.
The source said: “Shekau is seen as erratic and disorganised and Habib didn’t agree with a lot of his decisions anymore.”