Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamic extremists have a new leader who is threatening to bomb churches and kill Christians while ending attacks on mosques and markets used by ordinary Muslims, according to an interview published Wednesday by the Islamic State group.
He also says there is a Western plot to Christianize the region and has accused charities of using their aid for that, according to a SITE Intelligence Group translation of an interview published yesterday in the Islamic State newspaper al-Nabaa.
The newspaper identified Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new “Wali,” or governor, of its so-called West Africa Province. The “Wali” title was previously used to describe long-time Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
The report did not say what Shekau’s current status was, although there have been rumors for weeks that he had been replaced.
The interview with al-Barnawi indicates a major shift in strategy for the Nigerian extremists, who have killed many more Muslims than Christians in attacks in mosques with suicide bombers and gunmen.
There have also been attacks on crowded marketplaces in predominantly Muslim areas and the killings and kidnappings of school children. The targeting of students accounts for its nickname Boko Haram, which means Western education is sinful or forbidden.
“They strongly seek to Christianize the society. … They exploit the condition of those who are displaced under the raging war, providing them with food and shelter and then Christianizing their children,” SITE Intelligence quotes the new leader as saying.
Al-Barnawi says the militants will respond to that threat by “booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those (Christians) who we find from the citizens of the cross.”
Tuesday’s announcement indicates a coup by Boko Haram breakaway group Ansaru against Shekau, and follows a trend of extremist Islamic groups moving away from al-Qaida to the Islamic State, analyst Jacob Zenn said.
Ansaru broke away from Boko Haram because it disagrees with the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially Muslims.
Al-Barnawi is the pseudonym of a Nigerian journalist allied with Ansaru, which is known for kidnapping foreigners, according to Zenn.