Abu Musab al-Barnawi

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Abu Musab al-Barnawi
DiedAugust 2021[1]
Borno, Nigeria
Allegiance Islamic State – West Africa Province (2015–2021)
Boko Haram (2002–2015)
UnitWilayat Gharb Afriqiya
Battles/warsBoko Haram insurgency

Abu Musab al-Barnawi, born Habib Yusuf,[2] was a Nigerian Islamic militant who served as the leader of the Islamic State's branch in West Africa (ISWAP) between August 2016 and March 2019, and again around May 2021. He also served in various other capacities within ISWAP such as head of its shura. Before pledging allegiance to ISIL, al-Barnawi was the spokesperson for Boko Haram.

Early life[edit]

He was the eldest surviving son of the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf.[3]

Boko Haram[edit]

On 27 January 2015, he released a propaganda video as the spokesman for Boko Haram.[4][5]

Islamic State[edit]

On 7 March 2015, Abubakar Shekau released an audio message in which he pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State. Abubakar Shekau was reaffirmed as the leader of the branch in an ISIL video released in April 2016. On 21 June 2016, Reuters reported Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser as saying "Several months ago, about half of Boko Haram broke off to a separate group because they were not happy with the amount of buy-in, if you will, from Boko Haram into the ISIL brand," Shekau ignored ISIL orders to stop using children as suicide bombers. "He's been told by ISIL to stop doing that. But he has not done so. And that's one of the reasons why this splinter group has broken off," he said, adding Islamic State was trying to "reconcile those two groups."[6] However, the fracture ultimately resulted in the reemergence of a separate faction, generally called "Boko Haram", led by Shekau, and opposed to ISIL and ISWAP.[7]

On 3 August 2016, the Islamic State reported in the 41st issue of its newspaper al-Naba, that Abu Musab al-Barnawi had been appointed the new leader of their West African branch.[8] In response, Shekau declared that he and his followers were in the right, and that "[they] will not accept any emissary except the one we can attest he is sincere and truthful for Allah and His cause".[3] Al-Barnawi promised in an interview with al-Naba that he would not target mosques or markets in northern Nigeria. The difference in these approaches is due to Barnawi considering the general population in the region to be Muslim whereas Shekau considered them to be non-believers.[9] On 27 February 2018, he was made a 'Specially Designated National' by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control.[10][11]

In March 2019, rumours began to circulate according to which Abu Musab had been replaced by Abu Abdullah Idris ibn Umar al-Barnawi as the governor of ISWAP. Neither the Islamic State's top leadership, nor members of its West Africa branch officially commented on the claims, resulting in speculations about the reported dismissal. Some argued that he had possibly been overthrown as part of an internal power struggle,[12] while the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) claimed that he had been fired by the Islamic State's top command due to a number of defeats of his forces at the hands of MJTF.[13]

Around 16 May, ISWAP released an audio declaring that Abu Musab al-Barnawi had been reinstated by ISIL's central command as "caretaker" leader of ISWAP.[14] With al-Barnawi restored to overall command, ISWAP proceeded to overrun Sambisa Forest, inflicting a major defeat on the Shekau faction and resulting in Abubakar Shekau's death. Al-Barnawi consequently declared Boko Haram dissolved,[15] and Shekau dead, condemning him as "someone who committed unimaginable terrorism".[16] Soon after, ISWAP's structure was reformed, and al-Barnawi was appointed head of the ISWAP's shura (a powerful consultative assembly) and commander of Sambisa Forest.[17] According to the Daily Trust newspaper, he was killed in August 2021. Different accounts of his death circulated, alleging that he had either been killed by the Nigerian Army or as a result of inter-ISWAP power struggles.[1][18]


  1. ^ a b "Vicious ISWAP leader, Al-Barnawi, killed". Daily Trust. 15 September 2021. Retrieved 15 September 2021.
  2. ^ Murtala Abdullahi (26 May 2021). "Shekau's Last Message Throws Light On Links With Global Terror Groups, ISWAP Offensive". Humangle. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Shekau Resurfaces, Accuses New Boko Haram Leader al-Barnawi Of Attempted Coup". 360nobs. 4 August 2016. Archived from the original on 17 July 2018. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  4. ^ Shideler, Kyle (29 January 2015). "FRANK GAFFNEY: Boko Haram discusses Baga massacre, ideology in new video". The Washington Times. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  5. ^ Matfess, Hilary (7 February 2015). "OPINION: African Union forces may exacerbate Boko Haram threat". Al Jazeera America News. Al Jazeera America. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  6. ^ Stewart, Phil (21 June 2016). Choy, Marguerita (ed.). "Boko Haram fracturing over Islamic State ties, U.S. general warns". Reuters. The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  7. ^ Zenn (2021), pp. 1–2.
  8. ^ "Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader". BBC News Online. BBC Online. BBC. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  9. ^ AP (29 December 2016). "Islamic State Group Announces New Boko Haram Leader". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 3 August 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Counter Terrorism Designations". U.S. Department of the Treasury. United States Government. 27 February 2018. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  11. ^ Walsh, Eric (27 February 2018). Thomas, Susan (ed.). "U.S. Treasury slaps sanctions on more Islamic State targets". Reuters. The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Retrieved 3 July 2019.
  12. ^ AFP (6 March 2019). "ISIS-backed Boko Haram faction may have new chief". News24. Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  13. ^ "Boko Haram: Multinational Force Records Successes With 'Operation Yancin Tafki'". Channels Television. 12 March 2019. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
  14. ^ Zenn (2021), p. 1.
  15. ^ Kingsley Omonobi (26 May 2021). "Supremacy Battle: ISWAP fighters arrest more Shekau's commanders, meet surrendered top Boko Haram members". Vanguard. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  16. ^ Ahmad Salkida (5 June 2021). "ISWAP Confirms Shekau's Death, Says Its Fighters Were Following ISIS Orders". Humangle. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  17. ^ Malik Samuel (13 July 2021). "Islamic State fortifies its position in the Lake Chad Basin". Institute for Security Studies. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  18. ^ "Notorious Boko Haram, Islamic State Leader, Al-Barnawi Killed In Borno". Sahara Reporters. 15 September 2021. Retrieved 15 September 2021.

Works cited[edit]