Boko Haram reportedly has a new leader who has assured an ISIS interviewer the group would not be targeting Muslims.
ISIS’ magazine al-Naba announced that Sheikh Abu Musab al-Barnawi is the new leader of Boko Haram, an ISIS affiliate in Nigeria, in an interview with him in its recent issue.
Barnawi didn’t promise to quit enslaving girls, nor to quit ambushing relief columns bringing food to 244,000 starving children, nor to quit slaughtering people who will not convert to Islam or fight for Boko Haram, nor to quit using children as bombs.
But in an interview with Naba, he did deny responsibility for attacks on Muslims, saying they were perpetrated by people with other agendas.
“We do not target prayer places or markets for people who belong to Islam,” he told Naba.
The group was blamed – although it did not take credit – for twin market bombings in the cities of Kano and Yola last November, using children as young as 11 as suicide bombers.
Boko Haram does not consider all Muslims supporters and allies.
There have been suggestions it attacks certain mosques because members have spoken against it and helped federal officials with their crackdown. Its attacks are aimed at striking fear at the heart of the local population to prevent cooperation with the government, analysts say.
It has bombed schools, churches and mosques, kidnapped women and children, and assassinated politicians and religious leaders.
The militant group said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa’s most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.
In recent years, Boko Haram attacks have intensified in an apparent show of defiance amid the nation’s military onslaught. Its ambitions appear to have expanded to the destruction of the Nigerian government.
Nine months ago, CNN reported that Boko Haram had surpassed its affiliate ISIS in killing, at least in the previous year. In 2014, Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 deaths, an increase of 317% from the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index.
By contrast, ISIS, the terror group to which Boko Haram reportedly pledged allegiance in March 2015, was responsible for 6,073 deaths.
The Barnawi interview left unanswered the fate of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s previous leader, who took over in 2009. His insurgency killed an estimated 20,000 people and drove 2.7 million people from homes in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, according to Amnesty International.
Questions have swirled about Shekau, including whether he’s dead. Even his age is unknown; estimates range between 35 and 44.
In recent years, the Nigerian military has touted his death, only to retract its claim after he appeared alive and vibrant in propaganda videos.
He uses the alias Darul Tawheed, and analysts describe him as a ruthless loner and master of disguise. He does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate through a few select confidants.
The United States has put a $7 million bounty on Shekau.
CNN’s Merieme Arif contributed to this report