Omar S. Mahmood, Ndubuisi Christian Ani

Factional Dynamics within Boko Haram

Institute for Security Studies


This report, produced by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), is the first in a two-part study examining current dynamics with regards to violent extremist organisations (VEOs) operating in the Lake Chad region (Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger). The report examines factionalism within Boko Haram, while the accompanying report profiles current responses and challenges.  

In August 2016, Boko Haram officially split into two groups – Islamic State-West Africa (ISIS-WA), led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, and Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), led by long-time militant Abubakar Shekau. The rupture occurred after some militants opposed to the continuation of Shekau’s rule secured the support of Islamic State, replacing him with al-Barnawi. Shekau rejected the demotion, and instead began commanding a faction comprised of fighters loyal to him.  

The roots of the rupture have been present for some time, and revolve around a few key concerns: Shekau’s dictatorial leadership style, a need to revive the movement during a period of territorial loss, and most pertinently, a debate over who is an acceptable target of the group’s violence.