ISIS Names New Boko Haram Leader Amid Talk of Group Splintering

Status of Existing Leader Remains Uncertain

ISIS’s official Arabic-language newspaper, al-Nabaa, has announced that ISIS has appointed a man named Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of Boko Haram, adding that there would be significant changes to the group’s operations, including a promise to not attack any mosques or any marketplaces used by Muslims.

This would be a dramatic shift for Boko Haram, which historically has sought to maximize civilian casualties wherever it can. It is such a big shift that it is again fueling reports of a splintering of the group, with Barnawi believed to be the leader of a new faction which is distancing itself from the old leadership.

Barnawi was reportedly a journalist who was allied with Ansaru, a Boko Haram splinter group, and the ISIS statement gave no indication how he arrived at being the group’s leader, beyond an ISIS edict, nor what happened to existing leader Abu Bakar Shekau.

Shekau formally declared allegiance to ISIS back in March of 2015, and by territorial reckoning is the largest ISIS affiliate in the world. It has remained uncertain, however, what if any contact the two groups have actually had, with Boko Haram acting wildly different from the rest of ISIS, and no real reports of direct ties with the caliphate.

Boko Haram as it was initially conceived, as an explicitly anti-technology religious group, seems ill-suited to being an ISIS affiliate at any rate, as the parent organization’s success has come with them rapidly recruiting Westerners who brought new technologies and tactics into the traditional terrorist playbook.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of