By Alexis Akwagyiram
LAGOS (Reuters) – A Boko Haram faction with ties to Islamic State and responsible for the kidnapping of a Nigerian oil prospecting team which led to at least 37 people being killed has become a deadly force capable of carrying out highly-organised attacks.
Nigerian government forces have focused on crushing the best-known branch of the Islamist militant group whose leader Abubakar Shekau has led an eight-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in the northeast which has killed thousands.
But while Nigeria has claimed the capture of Shekau’s main base in the Sambisa forest and freed many of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his faction in April 2014 in Chibok town, a rival wing has developed the capacity to carry out attacks on a larger scale.
At least 37 people, including members of the team, rescuers from the military and vigilantes, died last week when security forces tried to free those being held by the Boko Haram faction led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi who is trying to thwart government efforts to explore for oil in the Lake Chad Basin.
That wing is “much better organised than the Shekau faction” which typically stages suicide bombings in mosques and markets, said Malte Liewerscheidt, senior Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft consultancy group.
“The Shekau faction does not seem to have a clear ideology or any strategy,” said Liewerscheidt. That makes it easier for al-Barnawi’s faction to recruit whereas Shekau’s faction was not trusted by locals, he said.
And despite the assessment that it is less organised, Shekau’s faction has stepped up suicide bombings in the last few weeks, killing at least 113 people since June 1, according to a Reuters tally.
The combined attacks by the two wings marks a resurgence by the group, months after President Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement in December 2016 that Boko Haram’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest had been captured.
Boko Haram, which has killed more than 20,000 people and forced some 2.7 million to flee their homes since 2009, split last year.
The division led by Shekau, Boko Haram’s most recognisable figure known for videos taunting Nigerian authorities circulated on social media, operates in the northeastern Sambisa forest and usually deploys girls as suicide bombers.
IS NAMED AL-BARNAWI
But, since Islamic State named al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August 2016 after the west African militants pledged allegiance the previous year, his Lake Chad-based faction has been moving…