The newspaper identified Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new “Wali,” or governor, of its so-called West Africa Province. The “Wali” title was previously used to describe long-time Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.
The report did not say what Shekau’s current status was, although there have been rumors for weeks that he had been replaced.
The interview with al-Barnawi indicates a major shift in strategy for the Nigerian extremists, who have killed many more Muslims than Christians in attacks in mosques with suicide bombers and gunmen.
“They strongly seek to Christianize the society. … They exploit the condition of those who are displaced under the raging war, providing them with food and shelter and then Christianizing their children,” SITE Intelligence quotes the new leader as saying.
Al-Barnawi says the militants will respond to that threat by “booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those (Christians) who we find from the citizens of the cross.”
Wednesday’s announcement indicates a coup by Boko Haram breakaway group Ansaru against Shekau, and follows a trend of extremist Islamic groups moving away from al-Qaida to the Islamic State, analyst Jacob Zenn said.
Ansaru broke away from Boko Haram because it disagrees with the indiscriminate killing of civilians, especially Muslims.