Claims from Nigeria that the leader of one of the affiliates of the fastest-growing Islamic State terrorist group is dead are being met with extreme caution in the United States.
White House, Pentagon and State Department officials said on Friday they were aware that Islamic State West Africa province leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi had been killed, but few said anything was definitive. It will be hasty
“We are aware of the reports, but note that unconfirmed reports in the past have proved to be baseless,” a senior administration official told VOA on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
“That said, ISIS-ISIS remains a threat to peace and stability in the West Africa region,” the official added, using another abbreviation for the terrorist group.
Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, first announced al-Barnawi’s death at a news conference in Lagos on Thursday.
I can officially confirm to you that Abu Musab is dead,” Irabor said, giving no other details.
Some media outlets suggested that al-Barnawi was killed in clashes with rival factions, but such claims could not be independently verified.
Al-Barnawi is the son of Mohammed Yusuf, who founded the rival terrorist group Boko Haram. In 2016, when much of Boko Haram broke away from Islamic State, al-Barnawi was appointed leader of the faction that remained loyal.
The US designated al-Barnawi a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in 2018, citing risks to US national security.
For years, al-Barnawi’s IS West Africa had been battling Boko Haram for supremacy in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. But al-Barnawi’s group finally got the upper hand in May, when his forces surrounded Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau after a fight 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 several times, eventually blew himself up instead of taking himself alive. took.
According to US military officials, IS has expanded rapidly to West Africa since Shekau’s death.
“ISWA (IS West Africa) has largely consolidated the vast majority of Boko Haram fighters,” one official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.
As a result, the ranks of IS West Africa have grown from about 2,500–3,000 fighters to about 5,000 fighters.
Intelligence from UN member states has also warned of the growing ambitions of IS West Africa.
A report by the UN sanctions watchdog in July said the group was “looking to expand its area of operations towards Maiduguri, Nigeria.”
The report further warned that IS West Africa was increasingly targeting “foreign interests” along the border with Niger.
Recent intelligence suggests that in some ways al-Barnawi’s group is succeeding.
Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN sanctions monitoring team, told a security conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday that IS West Africa “is now a large and very capable presence.”
“(In it) one, as it were, is a spoke or side affiliate known as IS Greater Sahara, which is widely active in the west in the Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali border region,” he said.