An Islamist named by ISIS as the new leader of Boko Haram has pledged to blow up every church the terrorist group can reach.
Abu Musab al-Barnawi, thought to be a pseudonym, was named by the ISIS newspaper al-Nabaa on Wednesday as the new “Wali,” or governor, of its so-called West Africa Province.
However, in a statement released the following day, the previous leader Abubakar Shekau said he was still in charge of Boko Haram. That has led to speculation that the organisation has split.
In a published interview, Al-Barnawi has claimed that there was a Western plot to ‘Christianise’ the region, and that Boko Haram would respond to that by “booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those (Christians) who we find from the citizens of the cross.”
The extremist group has previously targeted mosques, with many more Muslims than Christians killed, and students.
Al-Barnawi said that under his leadership the militants would work to seize back territory, and claimed that increasing numbers were joining the cause. Nigeria’s military reported that hundreds of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered, as aerial bombardments and ground assaults cut supply routes.
Wednesday’s announcement suggested a coup by Boko Haram breakaway group Ansaru against Shekau.
According to analyst Jacob Zenn from the Jamestown Foundation, a research institute based in Washington DC, it follows a trend of extremist Islamic groups moving away from al-Qaida to the Islamic State.
Ansaru, which is known for kidnapping foreigners, broke away from Boko Haram because it disagrees with the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially Muslims.
In March 2015, Shekau switched allegiance from al-Qaida and declared that Boko Haram be known as the Islamic State’s West Africa Province. At the time, Boko Haram was the most powerful military force in north-east Nigeria.
Under Shekau, the seven-year insurgency spread to neighbouring countries, killed more than 20,000 people and drove more than 2.2 million from their homes. It created what aid workers are calling a catastrophic humanitarian emergency, with children dying of starvation daily.
Boko Haram last week ambushed a humanitarian convoy, killing three civilians including a U.N. employee, and causing the suspension of U.N. aid to volatile areas in the north-east.
Since last year, Nigeria has a new leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator whose security forces are thought to be better equipped. He is also fighting corruption that diverted $2.1 billion meant to buy weapons for fighting the Islamic uprising.