A key figure in a terrorist group that has destabilized the vast Lake Chad region in West-Central Africa is dead, the head of Nigeria’s armed forces has announced.
The military commander, Gen. Lucky Irabor, said on Thursday that he could “authoritatively confirm’’ the death of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the leader of a jihadist group known as the Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP. He did not provide any further details.
ISWAP is a splinter group of the better known Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands of people, kidnapped schoolchildren and left millions homeless across Nigeria and neighboring African countries.
Mr. Barnawi, whose age was unknown, was the son of Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram’s founder.
Mr. Barnawi’s death could not be independently confirmed, and to many Nigerians, the military chief’s statement is not conclusive evidence of it. The nation’s army has previously claimed to have killed extremist leaders only to have them turn up alive, sometimes in videos, at a later date.
Mr. Barnawi’s death, if true, would be a blow to his group’s fortunes in the region. But it may not affect the leadership structure. It has long been unclear who really runs his extremist force.
The real power behind the crown was long thought to be Mamman Nur, formerly part of the top leadership in the original Boko Haram group. In northeastern Nigeria, ISWAP is still most often referred to as ‘‘the Mamman Nur faction’’ — meaning a faction of Boko Haram as opposed to the group led by Mr. Shekau.
Mamman Nur, however, is thought to have died in 2018, and security experts in the region say it is difficult to know exactly who is at the group’s helm now.
Abubakar Shekau, the longtime leader of Boko Haram, was reported to have died in May, killing himself before he could be taken prisoner by Mr. Barnawi’s group.
ISWAP split from Boko Haram in 2016 and in recent years grew to be as powerful as its parent terrorist organization, which left a decade-long trail of death, destruction and displacement across northeastern Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad region.
Now, Mr. Barnawi’s group is likely much more powerful than Boko Haram. Thousands of Boko Haram fighters and their families have been leaving the group and defecting to the government.
“He is dead and remains dead,” General Irabor said of Mr. Barnawi.