The leader of the Islamic State West Africa Province jihadist group, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, is dead, Nigeria’s top military commander said on Thursday.
ISWAP has not given any confirmation of al-Barnawi’s death and Nigeria’s army has claimed before to have killed jihadist commanders only for them to reappear.
“I can authoritatively confirm to you that al-Barnawi is dead. As simple as that. He is dead and remains dead,” Chief of Defence Staff General Lucky Irabor told reporters.
He did not give details on how or when al-Barnawi had died.
Under al-Barnawi, ISWAP became the dominant jihadist force in Nigeria’s conflict, striking frequently at troops in an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 since it begun in 2009.
Al-Barnawi’s loss would be blow to ISWAP’s structure just as it was consolidating since the death of rival Boko Haram commander Abubakar Shekau earlier this year during infighting between the factions.
But since splitting with Boko Haram in 2016, the group has shown its resilience and carried out large-scale ambushes on the military just in the last several weeks.
“Should al-Barnawi be dead, his death may not have too much impact on ISWAP because of how structured the group is,” said Malik Samuel, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies.
“Since the 2016 split, ISWAP has had about five leadership changes but the group has maintained its consistency in launching deadly and successful attacks against security forces.”