In January 2015, Abu Musab al-Barnawi appeared in public for the first time, when he was twenty-one years old, in a propaganda video claiming one of the largest massacres of civilians in Baga, in northeastern Nigeria.
Today, more than six years after that massacre, the Nigerian army announced his death without providing any details about the date or causes of death.
Until the time of preparing this report, the Islamic State in West Africa had not issued any confirmation about the death of its leader, al-Barnawi, knowing that the Nigerian army had previously announced the death of terrorist leaders, only to reappear later.
Al-Barnawi, whose real name is Habib Yusuf, born in 1994, is the eldest son among the living sons of Muhammad Yusuf, founder of the “Ahl al-Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad” group, the real name of the Boko Haram group.
Al-Barnawi’s title refers to the “man from Borno” in the Kanuri language (relative to the Kanuri tribe spread in four countries: Nigeria, Sudan, Chad and Cameroon) and belongs to the Nilo-Saharan languages.
According to Nigerian experts on extremist groups, former Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau chose this nom de guerre for the young Habib Yusuf after his father was killed by the Nigerian police in 2009.
When Al-Barnawi reached the age of fifteen, he became known as Abu Musab Al-Barnawi. The Nigerian conflict specialist, Fulan Nasrallah, notes on his Twitter account that “Abu Musab was like a brother or son of the complainant, and his right arm.”
Experts believed that Al-Barnawi’s fluency made him the spokesman for the Boko Haram group. But the relationship became tense after that between Al-Barnawi, and Al-Shwaki, who repeatedly said that Al-Barnawi was not an official spokesman for the group.
At that time, sources close to the movement reported that Al-Barnawi distanced himself from his guide when Al-Shekawi decided to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015, and approached another prominent person in the group, Maman Nour, who was a close friend of his deceased father.
Together, Nour and Al-Barnawi managed to recruit fighters in their stronghold outside the Sambisa Forest, where they distributed their fighters around Lake Chad and in the northern region of Nigeria near the coast.
Then the two “dissident” men, through audio messages, denounced Shekau’s “authoritarian tendencies”, accusing him of killing leaders and not condemning the mass looting that took place in the region.
In 2015, the estrangement between Al-Barnawi and Shekau reached its climax when Boko Haram presented Al-Barnawi in its official publication as the group’s “new governor”.
In 2016, the extremist Islamic group Boko Haram split into two parts. The first was known by the same name and led by Shekau, while the second was called “Islamic State in West Africa State.” The extremist organization recognized it, and was led by Al-Barnawi.
In contrast to the Boko Haram group, which does not hesitate to kill civilians who do not join its ranks by launching attacks or committing terrible massacres, the Islamic State – West Africa Province claims that it seeks to win the trust of the people of the region and guarantee financial resources in an organized manner.
Last June, Boko Haram confirmed the killing of its leader, Abu Bakr Shekau, who several sources said had died in a battle with the Islamic State in West Africa.
The group’s confirmation of the killing of its leader came 10 days after Al-Barnawi announced in an audio recording that Al-Shekawi had committed suicide by blowing himself up so that he would not be captured by the Islamic State in West Africa.
Concern has risen in recent years about the growing influence of the Islamic State in West Africa, which appears to be on the verge of absorbing Boko Haram fighters and controlling the former strongholds of the movement, as this means that it controls a larger area and has a larger number of fighters and more weapons.
Northeast Nigeria has been mired in a 10-year insurgency that began with Boko Haram attacks in 2009, killing more than 40,000 people and displacing two million people.
Among the most prominent massacres in Nigeria during Al-Barnawi’s presence in the ranks of Boko Haram was the one that took place in the northeastern town of Baga in 2015, when Boko Haram militants killed at least 100 people and burned 16 towns and villages on the entire shores of Lake Chad.
In 2014, the extremist organization kidnapped about 200 schoolgirls from a school in the northeastern city of Chibok, whose fate is still unknown to this day.