Bulwark Intelligence

What is Really Going On with Boko Haram 


Boko Haram fractures into two factions

On June 21st, U.S Marine Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser the nominee to lead the U.S military’s Africa Command sat at his nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee and whilst discussing Boko Haram said


Thomas Waldhauser

 Lt.Gen Waldhauser during his senate hearing on June 21st 2016.

“Several months ago, about half of Boko Haram broke off to a separate group because they were not happy with the amount of buy-in, if you will, from Boko Haram into the ISIL brand. Shekau has not fallen into line with Islamic State’s instructions, including by ignoring calls for Boko Haram to stop using children as suicide bombers. He’s been told by ISIL to stop doing that. But he has not done so. And that’s one of the reasons why this splinter group has broken off. the general indicated that the Islamic State was trying to reconcile the two groups but that Mr. Shekau had “not really fallen into line with what ISIL would like him to do.”

However, on August 3rd, IS released the 41st edition of the Islamic State’s Al-Naba magazine in which it interviewed Abu Musab al-Barnawi who they referred to as Boko Haram’s “governor” for West Africa. Abu Musab al-Barnawi was previously known as the spokesman for Boko Haram, thus this new label indicated a promotion for al-Barnawi.

The Islamic publication interview depicted an internal fracture that was birthed as a result of Shekau’s insistence on indiscriminate killing, compared to al-Barnawi’s faction who were against the killings of Muslims. It confirmed previous suspicious about disharmony within Boko Haram and also gave some insight into the thinking and knowledge that the Boko Haram leaders have on Christianity and the military.

alnaba interview with albarnawi

Al-Naba magazine interview with Abu Musab al-Barnawi on 3rd August 2016


One of the questions the interviewer asked al-Barnawi was with regards to the participation of the Multinational Joint Task Force made up of the four countries affected by Boko Haram. Al-Barnawi responded saying:

“We do see their fighter jets and surveillance airplanes flying over us frequently, especially lately while trying to chase us out of the Lake of Chad. That being said their involvement is limited to air support with no on ground presence”.*

He showed that Boko Haram in the region had carried out extensive surveillance and reconnaissance of military operations in the area, describing their operations. He said:

“Operations are run from joint operation room in Niger, and when they decide to attack, French and US send surveillance drones from their bases in Niger to locate us. Then joint African forces will carry an on ground assault backed by heavy air support”.*

He referred to the Civilians who assist the military (CJTF) as “Stick Campaign” saying:

“As for the “Sticks Campaign” people, they are civilians using sticks and swords to fight al-Mujahideen, armed by Nigerian military, charged to chase us out of towns we control, and were called Civilians JTF. Most of them have deserted while others are mainly now providing information about our locations because they [JTF members] are from the area and know it well”.*


Civilian JTF fighters in the North-East. Source: Premium Times

Al-Barnawi gave his own statistics about the diversity between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. This information shed insight into the thinking among Boko Haram about the role of Christianity in Nigeria. The ISIS interviewer asked the question:

Question: It is known that Christians aim at controlling most of Africa; can you tell us about this and the situation of countries fighting you?

“Christians succeeded at controlling large parts of Africa. For instance, in Nigeria at the end of last century there were representing 20% and were living mostly in the south. But today their numbers have increased and they control more areas, even in the north, and the percentage increased to 35%. They control areas where anyone Muslims cannot approach, but we promise to change that.”

Question: Can you talk to us about Christians activities in West Africa and how you are facing the challenge?

“Christians activity is enormous in this country [Nigeria] while taking advantage of poor living conditions of people. They entice Muslim population with money and possibilities to move to the West. Thus there are only few Mujahideen who are opposed to them. Westerners [Christians] are taking advantage of poor conditions of people by offering food and shelter to refugees, and proselytizing their children without noticing. For this reason we are trying to destroy every church when able to and kill as many as we can and those supporting them. Additionally we raise awareness about the danger of Christian organizations that only came here to proselytize while using humanitarian work as a cover up. The response against these organizations was great.”*

The interviewer then asked al-Barnawi about attacks on Muslims in Mosques and markets and this was seen as an opportunity for al-Barnawi to explain his grievances with Boko Haram’s strategy under Shekau:

Question: What are your thoughts about the media reporting your attacks on mosques and markets where Muslims are present?

“I am glad you asked this question because was looking for an opportunity to raise this issue. Those carried attacks on mosques, markets, and other venues belonging to Muslims do not represent IS, they only represent themselves. We also don’t consider or associate automatically people living in the area controlled by our enemy as traitors. We don’t authorize or approve such attacks.”*


Shekau’s Response

After the news of this promotion broke on BBC, Abubakar Shekau who had not been heard from publically since March released an audio message in response. The Boko Haram leader stated that he is responding based on “the message he heard on the World Radio”. This statement confirms the knowledge that much of the information Shekau receives about global affairs and world news is via the radio, probably BBC Hausa radio service.

Shekau released a video and audio message to prove that he is still in charge. In the message, he described al-Barnawi as an infidel and called himself the Imam of Boko Haram. Heretofore he had referred to the group as ISWA. The use of Boko Haram signals Shekau’s disagreement with ISIS.

In his message, Shekau made it known that he will continue to fight and kill both non-Muslims and Muslims who “dwell in the society with the infidels without making public their opposition or anger against infidels”. He claims this ideology is tied with the Quran and is the cause of Allah.

It appears when al-Barnawi first begun voicing his complaints about the killing of Muslims, the matter was taken to ISIS who attempted to broker peace between Shekau and al-Barnawi. Shekau said he had written “eight or nine” pages to ISIS on this matter and he was told that they will go through the ideology and point out any mistakes or disagreements to him. They never got back to Shekau, but after the interview with al-Barnawi, it is obvious that ISIS leadership sided with al-Barnawi on his own “ideology” prompting Shekau to declare he was “deceived”. Shekau finished his message by affirming that he was doing the right thing and following the instructions of Islam. He stated:

“We are still in the cause of Allah and will never depart in the struggle to establish an Islamic caliphate and standing by Islam. We will continue to work for the cause of Allah, no going back”.*

Shekau 7Aug Message

Screenshot of Shekau 7 Aug 2016 Video Message


Al-Barnawi’s response to Shekau

Al-Barnawi responded to Shekau’s message saying that he decided to release a public audio message on the matter because Shekau started it first. Al-Barnawi’s main qualm was that Shekau was preaching a version of Islam they did not agree with. His statement read:

“We want our people to know proper Islam because Allah in the Quran forbids killings without justification. Just like Allah gave us power to kill infidels, there are those he said we shouldn’t kill without reason. “In the Quran, Allah forbade Muslims from killing one another…and he also taught against killing in secret. If it is serious punishment, it must be public for people to know and witness it. But once you see killings in secret, there is something fishy and this is what we noticed with Shekau. What he is doing is not Islam. He said we should follow him and we agreed, but we later realized it is another thing and we said no. We have to stick to the Quran and what Allah said, not [follow] someone’s waywardness”.

We don’t know this brand of Jihad; you kill children, women and bomb people. We should be looking for infidels and not our own people. How can we be killing people in the mosques when there are churches, barracks? It is nonsense and Allah will ask you [about it] if you don’t repent. Another thing is, [Shekau] is interpreting verses with his own opinions and the cassettes are being spread. Stop interpreting the Quran with your own opinion. We who lived with [Shekau] knew his conduct. What is not in the Hadith, he will insist that it is there. Kai, Imam, all these interpretations are your own creation. Please go and seek education and knowledge from those that know.”*

Al-Barnawi also confirmed Shekau’s location in Sambisa by stating

 “We will not leave our fellow brothers in the dark; this message of mine will get to Sambisa Forest. It will get into Shekau’s house. We have agents that will convey the message no matter how he dislikes it.*



Finally, al-Barnawi mentioned a list of reasons why he and his group decided to leave Shekau’s faction of Boko Haram including the fact that Shekau did not care for those beneath him, He killed at whim, and he did not listen to his advisers. Al-Barnawi said:

“Another case of Shekau’s insensitivity is abandoning fighters to hunger [as well as] women and children who go without food while he is enjoying with his own family.

Last year, 20 children died of malnourishment. Recently, 15 babies died in one day due to starvation. I have a recorded message here, and I will play it here for all to hear. (The audio was played and Shekau was heard saying the following: “That children are dying, let even 100, 000 die now. Nonsense, am I the one holding them? I can only do what I can. Am I here to breed babies? You came disturbing me. Who told you my duty is to look after babies? Who told you my duty is to look after fighters? If this is what you are talking about, then it is you that should look after me. Is this what Quran said? What do you mean?”).

Even [when fighters] advance towards enemies, [Shekau] doesn’t make logistics available. The other time, we lost plenty of gas and fuel tofire. Before, you ruled over us, but now we are free. Another thing that made us leave you is because you don’t listen to your cabinet. If we follow Shekau, we will never make heaven. That is why we left.”*

In essence, al-Barnawi painted a picture of a Shekau and Boko Haram that was dwindling in reserves while the leader was wallowing in luxury with his wives, family and house in Sambisa. What is more disturbing about this whole situation is that all this is going on in the same Sambisa Forest that the military claims they are carrying out Operations after Operations in the forest.

Sambisa Forest Borno State

Sambisa Forest, Borno State

The DHQs response

The military’s response to the string of communication between Shekau ISIS and al-Barnawi was blasé. When the ISIS report first came out, the Director of Defence Information, DHQ, Rabe Abubakar gave a press interview in which he stated that “As far as we are concerned, what Boko Haram or their cohorts are doing is of no relevance to our operations against them. We are just focused on clearing the remnants of the insurgents that are scattered around. What they are doing is to seek relevance and to tell the world that they are still around whereas they have been decimated. Their latest move is the antics of a fading group and I believe that in the shortest time they will be history,”

The Ministry of information followed suit with a statement saying “Don’t believe the cheap propaganda by the global terrorist group ISIS, which has reportedly named a new leader for Boko Haram. Our gallant military has put Boko Haram on the run and nothing will bring back the terrorists, not even the wishful thinking by ISIS.”

When the Shekau video was released, the DHQ once again dismissed the video saying “That’s rhetoric and that doesn’t bother us. Which Shekau and where did you see him. Remember anybody can replicate him. We know they are dying elements and will die alone soon”.

The last comment was made by the DHQ spokesperson who often comes across as one who is not knowledgeable. The video clearly shows Shekau along with green vegetation that confirms what the COAS has stated is one of the main difficulties in penetrating Sambisa Forest in this rainy season.


Shekau Plays his Chibok Girls Card Again

Following his last rant about his intention to fight the Nigerian military, President Buhari and the “entire world”, Shekau played his Ace Card which is the Chibok Girls. He released a video of the Chibok girls knowing that it would garner worldwide publicity and show who was still in charge in Sambisa Forest.

The video showed a masked gunman who demanded that Boko Haram fighters be freed in exchange for the release of the girls. He also explained that 40 out of the 276 girls had been married off to fighters and many others had died in Nigerian Military Airstrikes. At the end of the gunman’s rant, the video cut to a fighter jet in the sky and then cut to dead bodies of females on the ground.

Post blast scene from boko haram base

Screenshot of latest video footage released by Boko Haram on 14th Augustt 2016, attempting to link Nigerian military airstrikes as the cause of death of the females on the ground. Source: TRAC

The intention of Boko Haram was to show that the military’s aircraft was the cause of their death. However, careful observation of the “blast scene” did not indicate an area that had undergone any aerial attack. There were no craters in the ground, just a few empty kegs (jerry cans) laying on their side.

Also it was difficult confirming the facial identities of the girls as the camera man was careful not to record the faces of the girls.

It is possible that Shekau would have ordered the killing of these girls to carryout propaganda and force the Nigerian military to cease airstrikes against their bases in Sambisa. It is highly unlikely however, that he would have selected “Chibok Girls” for this act because he knows the value of the girls to the Nigerian government and the world.

This time around, the DHQ responded by saying their aircrafts and airstrikes were not responsible for the death of the girls, while the Ministry of Information was quick to assure the Nigerian people that the Federal Government was trying to secure the release of the Chibok girls.



The military decided to declare wanted the journalist who shared the video of the Chibok girls. One of the journalists, Ahmad Salkida, was sent the video of the Chibok girls, by Boko Haram contacts. The military claimed he and the other two individuals declared wanted had links to the group and had information on the conditions and exact location of the Chibok girls.

“Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil have been economical with the truth regarding what they know about Boko Haram insurgents and their activities. Please note that Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil failed to give us more details. They were evasive. They wanted everything on their terms. Now it’s going to be on our terms. We are determined. They must cooperate. They must mention their Boko Haram contacts and their locations. It is strategic to engage the alleged Boko Haram negotiators so as to weaken their propaganda base. We cannot continue to drag this war any further. The military approach should be devoid of rhetorical postulation. We want actionable information for planning and execution of our operations,”

It turns out that the military’s intentions differed from its tone. In other words, the military simply could have asked the journalists to come in for questioning, as opposed to announcing that they were wanted. The military interrogated the other two “wanted” individuals, Ahmed Bolori and Aisha Wakil, and released them afterwards.

It is unclear the level of information received from these individuals, as a few days after questioning them, the Nigerian Air Force carried out air strikes against a Boko Haram base in Sambisa Forest on Friday 19th August 2016, killing several top commanders and “fatally wounding” Shekau.

The Nigerian military has claimed that it has defeated the Boko Haram commander several times. What typically happens is that Shekau releases a message refuting the military claims. In this regard, the only other way to confirm or deny these claims by the military is to wait and see if the ‘fatally wounded” commander tells us his version of the story.


Following the public split of Boko Haram between Shekau and al-Barnawi, the Shekau led faction has once again resumed attacks on villagers in Borno state. These attacks are being orchestrated first of all, to keep his existing militants occupied, in order to prevent further drifting to the other faction. Secondly, Shekau has a point to prove to the leadership of ISIS, to the ISIS appointed and faction leader al-Barnawi, and also to the Nigerian government that he is still capable of coordinating and carrying out attacks in the region.

map of boko haram attacks from June 2016

There were no Boko Haram attacks reported in the month of July, however, following the release of Shekau’s video on 7 August 2016, in which he vowed to carry out more attacks, there were four attacks recorded between the 17th -21st August 2016.

Nigerian government and military officials have been quick to declare victory without finding the Chibok girls, or even apprehending these key individuals in the Boko Haram leadership. But until key members of the active Boko Haram and al-Barnawi faction are targeted, captured or killed, the threat of continuous attacks in the North East persists.

*Audio and Video transcripts are from Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC)


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