The leader of Nigerian Islamist group Ansaru, a breakaway faction of Boko Haram but linked to Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was arrested on Friday in central Nigeria, the army announced on Sunday.
“Security officers achieved a breakthrough on Friday in the fight against terrorism by arresting Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of the terrorist group Ansaru in Lokoja, capital of Kogi State (Center),” said the Nigerian army spokesman Rabe Abubakar.
Al-Barnawi, 47, whose real name is Usman Abubakar Umar, “was at the top of the list of terrorists we seek,” the military spokesman told AFP.
Originally from the town of Biu in Borno State (North), he spearheaded Ansaru after the death of its founder, Abubakar Adam Kambar, during a military raid on his hideout in Kano, northern Nigeria, in March 2012.
In 2012, the US State Department had included the two men on its list of the most wanted international terrorist, alongside Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram.
“Shekau is the most visible leader of the group Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, based in Nigeria. Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar have ties to Boko Haram and a close relationship with al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a listed terrorist organization,” wrote the US State Department in a statement.
Ansaru is a branch of Boko Haram which broke away in 2012 due to ideological differences and rivalry between Shekau and al-Barnawi, then one of his lieutenants.
Since its inception, Ansaru was particularly known for media attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. Al-Barnawi had organized the kidnapping in May 2011 of two engineers, a Briton and an Italian, in Kebbi State (North).
The two hostages were killed during a failed rescue operation by Nigerian special forces, backed by the British in the city of Sokoto (North) in March 2012.
Trained in Afghanistan and Algeria, he was also behind the kidnapping of a German engineer in January 2012 in the city of Kano. The latter was killed with four of his captors in another unfortunate attempt to rescue him by the Nigerian army in May 2012 in the outskirts of Kano, where the group is primarily based.
Ansaru has also claimed responsibility for an attack of a high security facility in late December 2012 in Abuja, killing two Nigerian policemen and freeing 40 Islamists detained there.
The kidnapping in December 19, 2012 of the French engineer Francis Collomb, to Rimi, in Katsina State close to the Niger border, was also claimed by the Islamists. The French managed to escape in November 2013.