Nigeria: Fighting Resumes Between Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State's West Africa Province)
The two organizations are engaged in a fight to the death in the northeast of the country where Iswap has gained the advantage over the movement formerly led by Abubakar Shekau.
The brutal death of Abubakar Shekau did not end the fighting between rival jihadist groups in Nigeria . In May, Jamaat Ahl Al-Sunnah leader Lil Dawa Wal Jihad (JAS) - one of the factions of the movement commonly known as Boko Haram - was forced to trigger his belt of explosives to escape the men of the Islamic State group in West Africa (ISWAP), who tracked him to the heart of his stronghold in the Sambisa forest. But, six months later, not all of the former combatants in the group considered to be Boko Haram's “historic” channel have not surrendered their arms.
In Cameroon and in Sambisa where the men of the Islamic State are now positioned, "there is not really any organized resistance, but rather the remains of JAS" , notes Vincent Foucher, researcher at the CNRS. They are found in certain groups of armed men on motorcycles "who practice kidnapping and try to survive outside the control of the Islamic State" .
On the other hand, "the resistance is effective" on the side of Lake Chad where a sub-faction of the JAS remains under the leadership of the jihadist Ibrahim Bakoura, also known as Bakoura Doro.
In 2016, when the Boko Haram group imploded and split into two groups (JAS and Iswap), Ibrahim Bakoura remained loyal to Abubakar Shekau, although there was no "strong relationship, nor regular contact ” between the two men in recent years, according to Vincent Foucher.
A "hundred dead"
While an apparent ceasefire seemed to reign between the two factions, "the fighting has resumed with a very high level of intensity" since the death of Abubakar Shekau, notes the researcher . At the end of September, the Bakoura faction notably succeeded in seizing the strategic island of Kirta Wulgo.
Certain sources in Nigeria then evoked a bloody battle which would have made more than a hundred deaths in the ranks of the jihadists. But these figures should be put into perspective according to the researchers, who underline the difficulty in obtaining reliable information in this region. "We must not exaggerate the importance of this incident", tempers Vincent Foucher, who recalls that the men of the Islamic State group then regained control of this position.
If the fighters of Iswap are less comfortable in a lake environment, the Bakoura faction struggles to move away from its stronghold in Lake Chad "for lack of armed vehicles" . An anchoring which leaves de facto the final advantage to Iswap, even if the group has recently suffered serious setbacks. Its leader, Abu Musab Al Barnawi, was “neutralized” during the month of August , presumably during one of these fratricidal clashes.
His disappearance has not been confirmed by Iswap, but the one who had taken the reins of the organization in 2016 before returning to the helm at the start of the year after two years of absence, was "at least seriously injured ” according to Vincent Foucher . An event that did not change the dynamics in place, given the resilience of the Islamic State and the solidity of its structures.
The haemorrhage on the side of Boko Haram
On the side of Boko Haram, on the other hand, it is the hemorrhage. Since the death of Abubakar Shekau and the takeover of the Sambisa forest by Iswap, thousands of people have surrendered to the Nigerian authorities. “So far, a total of 13,243 terrorists and their families, comprising 3,243 men, 3,868 women and 6,234 children have surrendered to our troops across the North East,” the army said in mid -December. October.
They are taken care of and questioned, before being taken to one of the IDP camps that surround the town of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in the northeast of the country, where a reintegration into civilian life may be offered to them.
Institute for Security Studies researcher Malik Samuel, who interviewed some of these "leavers" says Iswap "gave the choice" to those in the forest to leave the area if they did not wish. not join its ranks. “The majority are civilians who could not in any case leave when Shekau was alive, because he used them for forced labor or as human shields. Anyone who tried to flee was coldly executed, ”he explains.
Vincent Foucher describes “a mixture of women and children of combatants, civilians who were under the control of the JAS or non-combatant sympathizers. There are also captives, who have been incorporated over time into its ranks ”.
Surrounded by ISWAP
Still others are genuine fighters, including a few Shekau commanders. "Some of these surrenders undoubtedly have a more opportunistic side than those which have taken place in recent years as part of the Safe Corridor de-radicalization program [established in 2016 in Nigeria] ", adds Vincent Foucher. " It is not because they did not want to join their opponents that these men have completely abandoned the idea of jihad", he points out.
Surrounded by Iswap which also controls the road that leads to the Lake Chad basin, Shekau's former devotees no longer have many options, even if they could still seek to regroup in the heart of the Sambisa. Their numbers are residual and their means derisory in the face of the firepower of the Islamic State group in West Africa.
For those who still doubt it, Daesh released Saturday, October 30 a 17-minute propaganda video depicting the "exploits" of its branch in West Africa. We see in particular a succession of images of battles, the execution of Nigerian soldiers by a child and a parade of vehicles and sophisticated weapons, which remind us that Iswap has established itself as the dominant jihadist group in the region. .
Liza Fabbian (Lagos, correspondence)
SOURCE: Le Monde (translated from French)