Shekau says he leads Boko Haram, not IS-appointed successor

August 4, 2016
FILE - In this Sunday Jan. 31, 2016 file photo, a man walks past burnt out houses following an attack by Boko Haram in Dalori village near Maiduguri, Nigeria. Abubakar Shekau says he still leads Boko Haram, exposing the biggest rift yet among Nigeria’s Islamic insurgents and possibly paving the way for a break from the Islamic State group. The Islamic State on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016 announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi is the new leader of its so-called West Africa province. But an audio speech Thursday purporting to be from Shekau criticizes al-Barnawi as “an infidel.” (AP Photo/Jossy Ola, File)

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Abubakar Shekau said Thursday he is still the leader of Boko Haram, rejecting a successor announced hours earlier by the Islamic State group and exposing the biggest rift yet among Nigeria’s deadly Islamic insurgents.

Shekau’s declaration could pave the way for a break from the Islamic State group and Boko Haram’s possible return to the influence of al-Qaida. It also could cause insurgent rivals to turn their guns on each other.

The Islamic State on Wednesday announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi is the new leader of its West Africa Province.

But an audio speech purporting to be from Shekau criticized al-Barnawi and said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not respond to several letters from Shekau explaining that al-Barnawi is “an infidel” preaching “false creeds.”

Shekau called Wednesday’s announcement “a coup.”

“Today, I woke up to see one who is an infidel whom they want me to follow. No, I won’t ... We cannot subject ourselves to people who are in ignorance of all holy books and teachings,” Shekau said in the speech, delivered in Arabic and Hausa and posted on social media.

He also highlighted ideological differences with al-Barnawi, who promised in an interview published Wednesday in Islamic State newspaper al-Nabaa to end attacks on mosques and markets frequented by Muslims.

Such attacks have been a hallmark of Boko Haram under Shekau, who has led the group since its resurgence as a much more deadly and brutal force in 2009. Under his leadership, the seven-year insurgency spread to neighboring countries, killed more than 20,000 people and drove more than 2.2 millon from their homes.

In March 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi and gave the Islamic State group its first franchise in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shekau in his latest speech still calls al-Baghdadi his “caliph,” and he accuses his enemies of “deceit and treachery” that have poisoned his relationship with the IS leader.

Writing in the June edition of Foreign Policy magazine, analyst Jacob Zenn and fellow author Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote that factions of Boko Haram “appear to have significant buyer’s remorse when it comes to the group’s defection to the Islamic State’s camp.” They said Boko Haram today is weaker and controls far less territory than before the pledge of allegiance to IS last year.

“Today, al-Qaida has an opportunity to bring Boko Haram back into its orbit, a move that would cripple the Islamic State’s already faltering global expansion efforts,” they wrote.