World Bulletin / News Desk
"We won't stop attacks on the disbelievers [Christians] who sought to impose their way of life on the Muslims. They are compelling people to follow their path in bid to corrupt society," Barnawi claimed in an interview published on Wednesday in the ISIL online magazine Al-Naba.
The claims come amid disputes with the insurgent group and an internal power struggle between Barnawi and a prominent rival.
Barnawi is the nickname of the extreme group’s leader who comes from Nigeria's northeastern Borno state, the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Insiders say his real name is Habeeb and that he is the first surviving son of late Boko Haram chief Muhammed Yusuf. He was at some point a spokesman for the group.
Barnawi said the extreme group, founded by the late Yusuf – who died in Nigerian government custody – arose to guide Muslims back to the "righteous path" of Islam's first generation.
Once close to Abubakar Shekau, who succeeded Yusuf and took a more violent approach to the insurgency – Barnawi reportedly became estranged from him.
Wednesday’s interview identified Barnawi as the ‘wali’ (leader) of ISIL in West Africa, a rank analysts say is higher than the position of ‘ameer’ which Shekau held.
Analysts told Anadolu Agency Barnawi was made wali over a week ago – a tacit dismissal of Shekau – in what brought to the fore a longstanding civil war within the group. The split has seen the ISIL leadership side with the Barnawi faction.
The crowning of Barnawi first became public through the ISIL interview, even though no clear announcement was made to that effect.
-'Months of disagreement'
Fulan Nasrullah, a top Boko Haram analyst said: "Shekau has removed his group away from ISWAP [Islamic State's West Africa Province]. There were conflicts over aqeedah [ideology] and also over the state of the jihad etc."
He said the referral to Barnawi as wali meant that ISIL headquarters had decided to "throw out" Shekau following "months and months of disagreements" which have seen several fighters killed by Shekau's men.
Shekau acknowledges ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi but rejects Barnawi. In an audio message obtained on Wendesday and addressed to Baghdadi, Shekau said: "We cannot submit to the authority of those who openly exhibit disbelief and have strayed from the path."
While repeatedly acknowledging the legitimacy of Baghdadi, Shekau accused the ISIL leadership of ignoring correspondence in which he explained the situation within the group, adding: "We are therefore shocked to read the contents of the said [Barnawi] interview."
Shekau confirmed the presence of ideological disagreements between the two camps, saying while his faction remains true to “wiping out every trace of disbelief”, the one led by Barnawi is flirting with "transgressors and disbelievers".
"Shekau, for instance, holds that mosques other than those operated by people who accept his own ideology are the legitimate object of attacks because he doesn't see them as mosques. The habeeb [Barnawi] camp rejects this," according to Nasrullah.