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Two factions of the Boko Haram sect in Monguno area of Borno State engaged in a bloody fight over leadership tussle, sources told the AFP on Thursday.
The sect had split after the Islamic State group announced Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf, as the sect’s new leader to replace Abubakar Shekau.
But Shekau had insisted he was still in charge of the Islamist group, whose insurgency had killed at least 20,000 people since 2009 and displaced about 2.6 million people.
Sources say there have been deadly skirmishes between Boko Haram’s factions led by Abubakar Shekau and IS-backed Abu Musab al-Barnawi respectively.
Sources in North-East now say there have been deadly skirmishes between the two factions, even as Nigeria’s military seeks to finally rout the rebels in a sustained counter-offensive.
Last Thursday, several fighters from Shekau’s camp were said to have been killed in two separate gun battles with IS-backed Barnawi gunmen in the Monguno area of Borno State near Lake Chad.
Nigeria’s military declined to comment on the reported in-fighting when contacted by AFP.
But Mele Kaka, who lives in the area, told AFP that, “The Barnawi faction launched an offensive against the fighters of Shekau faction who were camped in Yele and Arafa villages.
“In Yele, the assailants killed three people from the Shekau camp, injured one and took one with them, while several others were killed in Arafa,” he told AFP on the telephone from the state capital, Maiduguri.
The attack, he said, prompted residents of Arafa to flee the area.
Kaka added that fighters from Barnawi camp had the previous day attacked gunmen loyal to Shekau faction in Zuwa village in nearby Marte district, killing an unspecified number.
Kaka added, “The Barnawi fighters told villagers after each attack that they were fighting the other camp because they had derailed from the true jihad and were killing innocent people, looting their property and burning their homes.
“They said such acts contravene the teachings of Islam and true jihad.”
AFP reported that the news of the factional clashes had been slow to emerge because of the destroyed telecommunications infrastructure in the North-East and restricted access to the area.
A civilian vigilante assisting the military against Boko Haram said there were sporadic clashes between the opposing fighters.
The three incidents described by Kaka were “very possible,” said Babakura Kolo.
“I don’t have news of the clashes but it is not surprising if they did occur because there has been similar in-fighting among the two Boko Haram camps,” he added.
Two weeks ago, there was a fierce gun battle in the Abadam area of Borno State, near the border with Niger, where Shekau’s fighters were routed, he said.
“It was a deadly fight and Shekau’s fighters were forced to flee,” Kolo said.
He added that hundreds of residents of the villages and their herds taken hostage by the fleeing fighters were allowed to go about their normal lives by the Barnawi faction.
Shekau has led Boko Haram since the death of Mohammed Yusuf in police custody in 2009, waging a deadly, indiscriminate guerrilla war that has overwhelmingly targeted civilians.