The head of the Nigerian jihadist group Iswap, affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, is dead, a senior Nigerian army official said Thursday. Islamic State in West Africa (Iswap) has not confirmed al-Barnawi’s death.
“I can say with certainty that al-Barnawi is dead,” the chief of the defense staff, General Lucky Irabor, told reporters. He did not specify the circumstances of the death of the jihadist leader, already given for dead by the Nigerian authorities in the past.
Iswap, recognized by the Islamic State, was born in 2016 from a split with the other Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram, which it accuses in particular of the murders of Muslim civilians. After gaining strength, Iswap became the dominant jihadist group in northeast Nigeria, stepping up attacks on the Nigerian military.
The Iswap leader rose to prominence after splitting from Boko Haram in 2016 over disputes with his commander Abubakar Shekau, who died earlier this year during infighting between the two factions.
Little is known about Barnawi, including his age and appearance. Born Habib Yusuf, he is believed to be the eldest son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf. He was seen as relatively moderate, eschewing Boko Haram’s more extreme policies, such as the use of children as suicide bombers and indiscriminate targeting of Muslims. After his father’s death in police custody in 2009, Shekau was appointed to lead the group.