The Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram has confirmed the death of its boss Abubakar Shekau, who, according to a video message from its suspected new commander, died during fighting with a rival faction allied with the Islamic State.
In the short video in Arabic, leading Boko Haram commander Bakura Modu, also known as Sahaba, urged his faction’s commanders to remain loyal despite the loss of their historic commander.
Shekau’s death marked an important turning point in the conflict in Nigeria, although the Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP) has recently emerged as the dominant force in the more than a decade of Islamist uprisings in the northeast of the country.
The video, made available to AFP by a source near Boko Haram and confirmed by a local source other than Bakura Modu, shows that the jihadist power struggles in Africa’s most populous nation are far from over.
Shekau, known after the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in 2014, killed himself instead of surrendering last month after IS allies attacked his base camp in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state, security sources said.
The ISWAP commander Abu Musab Al-Barnawi had already claimed in an audio that Shekau killed himself while fleeing from ISWAP fighters.
The undated video by Boko Haram shows Bakura flanked by numerous armed fighters in formation as he speaks into the camera in what is traditionally the way a jihadist group comes up with a new leader.
“Commanders of Jama’atu Ahlu Sunna Lidda’awati Whale Jihad. Be steadfast and draw your swords, spread your jihad, behead the enemy,” he said, using the official name of Shekau’s Boko Haram faction, which also known as JAS.
“Do not let what is happening to you today weaken your resolve for the jihad you are waging, for Allah has not given up your efforts.”
He also calls on the commanders of Boko Haram to reject ISWAP commander Barnawi.
Shortly after the first reports of Shekau’s death last month, fighting intensified between the two rival jihadist factions in Nigeria. ISWAP fighters cracked down on Boko Haram commanders who refused to surrender and join their ranks, intelligence sources said.
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The two factions have argued in the past since ISWAP split from Boko Haram in 2016, speaking out against Shekau’s indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilians and the use of female suicide bombers.
Bakura’s faction is one of the Boko Haram elements operating in the Lake Chad area, where they have access to porous borders with Chad and Niger.
ISWAP fighters have taken over Shekau’s fortress in Sambisa Forest in an effort to consolidate, analysts and security sources said.
But they said Barnawi would face possible opposition from hardline pro-Shekau factions along Nigeria’s border regions.
Since the conflict in northeast Nigeria began in 2009, more than 40,000 people have been killed and over two million displaced from their homes.
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