Abu Mus’ab Habeeb Bn Muhammad Bn Yusuf Al-Barnawi aka Habeeb the leader of ISWAP and the only surviving son of late Mohammed Yusuf the founder of Boko Haram reportedly died on Friday September 9, following gunshot injuries sustained from a violent clash with rival Bakura faction of BHT in Tumbun Jaki an island in the Lake Chad area.
With the reported death of Albarnawi and the possible killing of other top commanders of ISWAP who fought alongside Albarnawi.
It remains unclear what this will mean for the operational capability of ISWAP and it’s future as details are still sketchy on the number of casualties both in fighters and equipment.
This is however unlikely to spell the end of the group or signal the ultimate supremacy of the Bakura faction in the jihadist movement in West Africa.
Since the death of Abubakar Shekau in Jun of this year, the Bakura faction of BHT has capitalized on the vacuum created by the demise of Shekau and has become increasingly prominent in the region carrying out a number of successful attacks against ISWAP in a bid to takeover territories previously controlled by Shekau.
The latest of this turf wars was reported in Tumbun Jaki that led to the eventual death of Abu Musab Albarnawi 9 Sep 21. Albarnawi was generally considered to be a more moderate and level-headed leader in comparison to Shekau and Bakura whose deadly attacks have led to the killing and displacement of thousands of civilians in parts of Borno State, Niger and Republic of Chad.
Sources close to the late ISWAP leader revealed that Albarnawi before his demise was favourably disposed to negotiations and peace talks that could have seen an end to the insurgency in the North East.
With the killing of Albarnawi, it is expected that Bakura will begin to woo both Albarnawi and Shekau’s fighters.
Bakura who is believed to be from the area north of Lake Chad in Niger and leads primarily ethnic Buduma militants, although Bakura is Kanuri, like most ISWAP members and especially most Shekau faction members.
It is therefore expected that based on ethnic allegiance, Bakura might not find it difficult to win over fighters in the Lake Chad area where ISWAP currently dominates.
It is also expected that Bakura’s faction would attempt to halt the large number of Shekau’s former fighter who have been surrendering to troops by conducting summary executions of family members and associates of former fighter who have already surrendered to instill fear and discouraged further capitulation of the fighters.
While it is also expected that ISWAP might experience a temporary disorganisation following the death of Albarnawi and possibly other top commander who fought alongside with him resulting.
It is likely that the group will observe a temporary hibernation for a few weeks as it reorganizes itself. Fewer attacks on military and civilian locations is therefore expected in the coming days from the group as it occupies itself with the threat from Bakura.
It will also mean that the Bakura faction will receive a massive boost of morale and possible armament from booty of war with ISWAP. This remains to be seen as more details of the clash the led to the eventual death of Albarnawi begins to filter in in the coming days.
Alternatively, many of Albarnawi and Shekau’s hardline fighters could decide to join forces with other extremist groups in the region, or create their own faction. This would be potentially disastrous for the already embattled north-east of Nigeria as it could lead to more infighting between the different groups, with civilians caught in the middle.
While the military preoccupies itself with the operation in the North West, a new monster could be emerging in the North East.
Therefore, recent events provides an opportunity for security and intelligence agencies to capitalize on the current infighting between the two group to deploy all available psypos and commit to further destabilize the 2 groups without giving them any breathing space to reorganize.
The events in Afghanistan cannot be ruled out as a motivation to fighters in further deepening their resolve to continue on the path of Jihad.
In view of the already established relationship between Bakura and bandits in the North West, it is likely that Bakura will reach out to them and provide them with a safe heaven to consolidate his resurgence and growing influence in the NE.
The coming weeks will be decisive in the future of jihadist movement in West Africa depending on the response of the Nigerian State to the opportunity presented by the death of Albarnawi.
What is clear is that with the death of Shekau and Albarnawi, a new era in the life of BHT and ISWAP will be herald, one that might be more deadly and inaccessible to State contacts in Maiduguri and beyond.