Al-Barnawi: US expresses caution over death of ISWAP leader

Al-Barnawi: US expresses caution over death of ISWAP leader

The United States has expressed reservations over claims from Nigeria that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, leader of the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has been killed.

ISWAP is regarded as one of the world’s fastest-growing Islamic State terror group affiliates.

Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, had first announced the death of al-Barnawi at a news conference in Lagos on Thursday.

‘‘I can authoritatively confirm to you that Abu Musab is dead,” Irabor was quoted as saying at the press conference. In addition, a few media reports in Nigeria suggested that the dreaded ISWAP leader had been killed in clashes with rival factions.

However, the Voice of America (VOA) has revealed that the claims could not be independently verified.

Further, the medium says officials at the White House, Pentagon; as well as US State Department said Friday they were aware of accounts that al-Barnawi had been killed; but some said it was too early to say anything for sure.

A senior administration official told VOA on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation;

“We are aware of the reports but note that unconfirmed reports in the past have proven unfounded.” 

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“That said, ISIS-West Africa remains a threat to peace and stability in the region,” the official added; using another acronym for the terror group.

Al-Barnawi is the son of Mohammed Yusuf, who founded the rival terror group, Boko Haram. In 2016, when most of Boko Haram split with Islamic State; al-Barnawi was appointed the leader of the faction that remained loyal.

The US named al-Barnawi a “specially designated global terrorist” in 2018; citing the risk he posed to US national security, VOA reports. For years, al-Barnawi’s ISWAP had been battling Boko Haram for supremacy in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. But al-Barnawi’s group seemed to finally gain the upper hand in May when its forces surrounded Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau following a battle in the Sambisa Forest.

According to accounts posted online by IS and later confirmed by Nigerian and US officials; Shekau, who, like al-Barnawi, was reported dead multiple times, eventually blew himself up rather than be taken alive.

US military officials say Shekau’s death has since led to a rapid expansion for ISWAP. As a result, ISWAP ranks has grown substantially, from about 2,500-3,000 fighters to about 5,000 fighters.

Intelligence from United Nations member states has also warned of ISWAP’s growing ambitions.

A report by a UN sanctions monitoring team in July said the group was “expected to seek to extend its area of operations towards Maiduguri, Nigeria.” The report further warned that ISWAP was increasingly targeting “foreign interests” on the border with Niger.

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