THE IRONY OF ISWAP’S MISSION TO ELIMINATE RIVAL BOKO HARAM FACTION IN NIGERIA - FROM HUNTER TO HUNTED
The terror leadership of the so-called Islamic state of west Africa Province ( ISWAP) may have erroneously envisaged that by eliminating veteran Boko Haram JAS (Ja’amatu Ahlis Sunnah Lida Al Wati Wal Jihad) rival leader Abubakar Shekau and consolidating all JAS fighters, women, Equipment, foodstuff and territory, the outcome will be a boost to the standing capacity of ISWAP,
Resulting thereby to a unified state of ISWAP operational and leadership monopoly in the Lake Chad Basin. But just after the successful hunt and suicide of Abubakar Shekau , ISWAP has taken the default position of the hunted group. With no recognized Wali (Provincial leader) and no Shura Council in place ISWAP is experiencing a downward fall.
Impeccable sources have confirmed another tit-for-tat deadly clash between the Abu Musab Albarnawi led ISWAP faction and the Bakura ( or Bakoura) led unit aligned to former JAS leader Abubakar Shekau.This JAS unit is led and dominated by fighters from the Buduma tribe located in the fringes of the Lake Chad basin. The Bakura led largely independent unit is locally known as the Kangar group - perhaps another self-declared name given to the unit due to its fighters known ability to climb, hide and fight efficiently on thick Kanger trees along the islands of the Lake Chad basin.
This is not the first deadly inter jihadist clash between fighters aligned to JAS and fighters linked to ISWAP before and after veteran leader Abubakar Shekau committed suicide on May 18th 2021 at his remote Farisu stronghold in the Sambisa Forest- along the fringes of North East Nigeria. By all indications these deadly clashes are likely to increase rather than subside as power grab and resource control consumes the focus of both factions and their affiliates.
According to several sources the most recent ISWAP - JAS bitter war of power and territorial dominance, was triggered after several fighters linked to JAS Bakura led Kangar group launched a massive attack against the ISWAP Al-Barnawi led faction in a yet to be identified remote location in the Sambisa Forest.
The infighting is said to have resulted in the death of several jihadist from both camps with the Bakura group reported to have successfully kidnapped and carted away with some of the wives, arms and foodstuffs of ISWAP fighters; including vulnerable women ISWAP leadership had enslaved and retained as sex slaves from the Shekau led camp in the same location.
In retaliation, sources say the ISWAP led faction planned and launched a reprisal attack against the stubborn Bakura unit , recovering some of their wives, ammunitions and some remaining foodstuffs previously carted away by the Bakura faction. Both sides lost several fighters in that encounter.
Sources have also pointed out that ISIS affiliated ISWAP did succeed at first in convincing most of the fighters and unit commanders linked to former JAS leader Abubakar Shekau to surrender, pay allegiance and join ISWAP ranks just before and after Shekau committed suicide - to avoid a humiliating capture in his last hideout in Farisu - Sambisa Forest.
The Hunter now the hunted :
However the Kangar group of Mallam Bakura (which operates around remote locations in the Lake Chad basin area) has become a thorn in the flesh of ISWAP and their planned operations . This same Kangar group in said to have enjoyed some high level of operational independence under Abubakar Shekau led Boko Haram JAS faction. At the demise of Abubakar Shekau, Mallam Bakura and some of his fighters refused to align with ISWAP.
Instead , the group is fiercely challenging ISWAP’s mission to monopolise the jihadist space and completely wipe out JAS in favour of an ISWAP rhetoric of one Wali - one Province and one religious doctrine under the direct command of ISIS core.
The Bakura unit which ISWAP may not have initially planned for, is actively hunting down ISWAP fighters and their leadership in some of the remote hiding camps they seized from Abubakar Shekau along the Sambisa Forest and the Lake Chad Basin.
With erratic and bloodthirsty JAS leader Abubakar Shekau out of the Boko Haram leadership picture , ISWAP would have thought the process of consolidation of JAS territory and fighters would be smooth but these continued internal jihadist clashes between ISWAP and JAS renegades commanders is indicative of a significant turning point in the fragility of ISWAP’s ability to sustain its regular operations against government Forces in the lake Chad Basin due to a re-focus on defeating the new enemy within.
Generally, suspicion and distrust is high within ISWAP and JAS remaining commanders particularly noted in the manner in which ISWAP cunningly used previously known JAS commanders to infiltrate and track Abubakar Shekau prior to his suicide action in the Sambisa forest. A reason sources believe men like Mallam Bakura and some of his fighters are highly sceptical about forging any temporary or permanent links with ISWAP units or leadership.
Currently, both factions are losing a lot of experienced but young fighters than they can recruit and train to face the common enemy. Worse, ISWAP has a shaky and patchy leadership structure following a complete dissolution of the Shura Council and suspension of the last ISWAP Wali - Abu Hafsa or Abu Dauda by direct instructions from ISIS core Amirul Mumineen - this according to ISWAP’s own intercepted audio messages attributed to Abu Musab Al Barnawi- one of the surviving sons of late Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf.
From a leadership fragility angle, the so-called west Africa Province Jihadist group is temporarily under the caretaker leadership of young Abu Musab Al-Barnawi ( who appointed himself caretaker) even though he admitted they ( as leaders of ISWAP ) have all failed in their duties of maintaining operational expectations and the so-called jihadist standards within ISWAP community - particularly on the brutal and abysmal manner in which the poor and vulnerable are treated by appointed leaders.
The present ISWAP leadership uncertainty opens up possibilities of continued bitter power struggle within ISWAP high ranks specifically on who will or should be selected to become the next ISWAP Wali when the current suspension by ISIS core is lifted.
Consolidation of jihadist hiding areas captured from Abubakar Shekau along the Sambisa Forest is rough for ISWAP fragile command – this is unlikely to change if the Bakura group continues to put up fierce resistance by actively attacking ISWAP positions, stealing food and capturing their women.
The Bakura group’s disruptive tactics may likely give dutch-courage and room for other reluctant JAS commanders ( even those who had earlier surrendered to ISWAP) to join or region the Bakura resistance to maintain Shekau’s JAS group.
In taken out Abubakar Shekau once and for good - ISWAP leadership may have been hoping for renewed strength in numbers, perhaps some territory and weapons after losing men, hiding camps and essential survival materiel through targeted bombardment from Nigerian army and Nigerian air force operations;
In reality , these primary calculations are a complete miscalculation - at least for now.
ISWAP is leaderless , has no advisory Shura council and unsure about its structural future. It is distracted by constant JAS attacks and a depleting man-power - this terrible state of affairs is pushing ISWAP leadership to rely on cheap propaganda to try and win vulnerable hearts and minds of both believers and unbelievers. How successful this approach goes depends on several state led counter measures.
As the jihadist group goes through a period of chaos, confusion and uncertainty, all state and regional coordinated counter insurgency efforts must be launched to prevent ISWAP from recovering from this downward state of affairs. At the same time the Bakura led faction must not be allowed to revive the crumbling JAS faction.
ISWAP may still have the guts and suicidal capacity to launch attacks on military hard targets as seen in the recent attempts in Damboa Local Government Area – North East Nigeria – But its biggest weakness is that ISWAP has opened up itself as a prey to be hunted by JAS sympathisers – an irony of ISWAP’s quest for absolute power and territorial control in Northern Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin.
If you See something; Smell Something; Hear Something ; Think Something then SAY SOMETHING. The security services cannot win the war against insurgency IF the people living within the affected communities refuse to fight it.
David Otto – Defence and Security Specialist
Certified Master Anti – Terrorism Specialist (CMAS).
David Otto is the Director for Stepped In – Step Out UK Ltd and a Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert. He is a Certified Anti -Terrorism Specialist (CAS), a Certified Master Anti -Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) and a programme trainer with the Anti -Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB). Twitter @ottotgs Email: David.firstname.lastname@example.org