After Attack On Rival, IS Militants Battle For Control In Northeast Nigeria

After attack on rival, IS militants battle for control in northeast Nigeria

Kano, Nigeria, June 4 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 4th Jun, 2021 ) :For years, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was a dreaded figure in Nigeria's insurgency, terrorising local communities with attacks, bombs and kidnappings.

Today, this once-dominant figure seems to be leaving the scene after being badly wounded -- or perhaps killed -- last week in clashes with rival Islamic State-allied militants.

If so, a major shift in Nigeria's 12-year-old militant insurgency appears to be developing as his enemies consolidate their grip, analysts say.

Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) is now targeting Boko Haram's soldiers after raiding Shekau's stronghold in Sambisa forest in Borno state, local and security sources said.

ISWAP has intensified attacks on Boko Haram factions, appointed its own chief in Shekau's enclave and executed 10 captured commanders who had refused to surrender, the sources said.

As ISWAP absorbs Shekau's fighters and territory, Nigeria's army potentially faces a more unified militant force, analysts say.

But ISWAP may also struggle to control or persuade Boko Haram factions loyal to Shekau outside Sambisa, especially in border areas.

"It may not be over yet, ISWAP will have to subdue or convince these camps to coalesce (them) into its fold to fully consolidate its control," said one security source.

Shekau was badly wounded after he shot himself last week to avoid capture by ISWAP fighters as they invaded his forest enclave, according to intelligence sources.

Two local Nigerian security sources said Shekau's men evacuated him badly injured, while local media reported he had died from his wounds, though his situation remains unclear.

Neither ISWAP or Boko Haram have released statements and the Nigerian military said only that it is investigating.

But whatever his status, fighting between rival factions has intensified.

On Wednesday, ISWAP jihadists in speedboats raided Boko Haram camps in Bosso in neighbouring Niger, leading to a battle with huge casualties, intelligence sources said.

"There was heavy fighting in Agadira, Lelewa and Kwatar Bauna between ISWAP and Boko Haram fighters which was bloody," said one intelligence source who asked not to be identified.

The two groups are also fighting in Mandara Mountains along Cameroon's border, where Boko Haram fighters are holding out, according to local intelligence sources.

During 12 years, Nigeria's military has struggled to end an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced around two million in the northeast.

Nigeria's two militant factions never resolved their differences -- mostly over Shekau's indiscriminate targeting of Muslim civilians and use of children suicide bombers.

Even before the Sambisa battle, ISWAP emerged as the more dominant force, carrying out large-scale attacks against the Nigerian military.

According to security sources in the Lake Chad region, ISWAP appointed Abu Mus'ab Al-Barnawi as its commander in Sambisa to replace Shekau.

Al-Barnawi is the son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf and was chosen to replace Shekau after Boko Haram paid allegiance to IS.

Shekau rejected the change, prompting Al-Barnawi along with a bulk of fighters to split and form ISWAP in 2016.

Following its takeover of Sambisa, ISWAP sent messages to locals in the Lake Chad region, telling them they were welcome to its self-declared "caliphate", said Sallau Arzika, a fisherman from Baga.

Locals were chased out of the lake islands after ISWAP accused them of spying for the military. Al-Barnawi said they could now return for fishing and trading after paying tax, with the assurance they would not be harmed, Arzika said.

ISWAP told locals they declared a ceasefire on Nigerian troops to focus for now on fighting "tyrant" Boko Haram until they submit to its leadership or are killed, he said.

Al-Barnawi rounded up 30 Boko Haram commanders including two of five being considered to replace Shekau, according to intelligence sources and locals with knowledge of militants' activities.