Key Leader of West African Terrorist Group Is Dead, Nigerian Army Says

Mr. Barnawi’s death could not be independently confirmed, and to many Nigerians, the military chief’s statement is not conclusive evidence of it. The nation’s military had previously claimed to have killed the Boko Haram leader, Mr. Shekau, only to have him later turn up alive, sometimes gloating in videos.

In his news conference, General Irabor said of Mr. Barnawi, “He is dead and remains dead.”

The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Africa Command said they were aware of the reports of the death of Mr. Barnawi, but could not confirm them.

Mr. Barnawi’s demise, if true, would be a blow to his group’s fortunes in the region. But it may not affect the leadership structure. It has long been unclear who really runs his extremist force.

The real power was long thought to be Mamman Nur, once a top leader in the original Boko Haram group. In northeastern Nigeria, ISWAP is still often referred to as ‘‘the Mamman Nur faction’’ — meaning a faction of Boko Haram, as opposed to the group led by Mr. Shekau.

Mamman Nur, however, is thought to have died in 2018, and security experts in the region say it is difficult to know exactly who is at the group’s helm now.

Still, Colin P. Clarke, a counterterrorism analyst at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm based in New York, said, “Without risking overstating the significance, the death of al-Barnawi is extremely important” because ISWAP has greatly expanded its territory in recent years.

He added, “With the recent death of Shekau, jihadism in West Africa is undergoing a transition, as groups vie for resources and recruits.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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