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10 Facts About New ISWAP/Boko Haram Leader, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi  



Abu Musab al Barnawi

His name means “the man from Bornu” in Arabic, but Abu Musab al-Barnawi officially became the leader of the now unified ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorist group following the death of his former principal, Abubakar Shekau, both of whom fell out on ideological grounds in 2015.

For Albarnawy, about whom little is in the public space, this is a dream come true, his re-emergence from the fringes and obscurity into the limelight. But unlike his former, expired boss, he is not given to hogging the limelight and rhetorics.

Still, many see his re-emergence as a move by the Islamic State, IS, to unify the already fractured terrorist group and re-strategize.

Albarnawy himself claimed he had received directives from the IS to take over and coordinate all activities of the insurgents under one umbrella for easy movement of funds, weapons, and materials. To achieve this objective, ISWAP has taken over all territories under  Shekau’s control and arrested 30 commanders loyal to him. Before then, other commanders loyal to Shekau had surrendered to him.


Here are facts on the new ISWAP/Boko Haram leader.


  1. Al-barnawi is the eldest surviving son of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram who was extra-judicially murdered by the Nigerian police in 2009.


  1. His name is derived from Arabic, meaning: “The man from Borno.”


  1. He first appeared in a Boko Haram video in 2015 claiming he was spokesman of Boko Haram, before it pledged allegiance to ISIL.


  1. He later fell out with Shekau and went underground. Many thought he had lost relevance and was of little significance.


  1. On 3 August 2016, the Islamic State reported in the 41st issue of its newspaper al-Naba, that he had been appointed the new leader of their West African branch. This was because Shekau refused to adhere to their demands and ideology.


  1. Shekau not only rejected what he regarded as the imposition of Al-barnawi, calling it a coup detat in a video, he also refused to recognise Albarnawi’s authority, which made the group to split into two factions, Shekau retained Jamaat Ahlus Sunnah li Dawah wal Jihad as the original name of the group, while Al-barnawi led the Islamic State’s West African province (ISWAP).


  1. Al-barnawi was the leader of ISWAP between 2016 and 2019. Though he was considered a figure head then with real power being held by his second in command, Malam Nur. Nur was later assassinated by more radical ISWAP commanders in August 2018.


  1. A-lbarnawy had been living on the fringes since 2019 and many thought he had lost relevance.


  1. Like his late principal, Shekau, he also speaks against western education and democracy, though his tactics are different. While Shekau believes in exterminating all non-adherents of the Quran, A-lbarnawi believes mosques and Muslims should be spared.


  1. In an interview he granted Al-Naba Newspaper, Al-barnawi was quoted as describing Boko Haram’s activities in Nigeria as a war fought by Muslims against “apostates” and “crusaders.”
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