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The Son of a Terrorist Defects to the Nigerian Army

Mahmud Albarnawy’s Journey to Redemption

By Mike Odeh James and Segun Onibiyo

(Kaduna) In a shocking turn of events, Mahmud Albarnawy, the eldest son of the founder of the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), Mamman Nur, has surrendered to the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Maiduguri, Borno State capital. This development marks a significant milestone in the fight against terrorism in the region.

Mahmud, 22, surrendered on Sunday, May 12, Sunday morning after confiding in an unnamed uncle in Gamborun Ngala about his decision to surrender to the Federal Government. According to security analyst Zagazola Makama, Mahmud was confirmed to be the son of the late ISWAP co-founder after undergoing profiling at the NSCDC command headquarters in Maiduguri.

The journey to Mahmud’s surrender began when he sneaked out of the Ali Ngulde camp in Mandara Mountain, Gwoza Local Government Area, and made his way to Maiduguri. He stayed in the city for about a month, living in Gwange, before relocating to Gamboru Ngala. Throughout his journey, he avoided detection by security forces and did not raise any alarm or distress signs from the communities he passed through.

During his stay in Gamboru Ngala, some of his late father’s loyalists tried to persuade him to return to the Lake Chad area and pay allegiance to ISWAP. However, Mahmud refused, citing the betrayal and eventual execution of his father as the reason for his decision.

Mahmud’s father, Mamman Nur, was one of seven trusted leaders guided in 2013 by Boko Haram founder  Muhammad Yusuf.  The group started its advocacy for a caliphate in Maiduguri but pressure by the Nigerian Army forced it to relocate to the Sambisa Forest, where it has operated from hidden bases since 2015, according  to Zagazola, a foremost expert on Boko Haram.  

Nur was known for his radical ideology and was responsible for several attacks in the region. His execution by his own group in 2018 marked a significant shift in the dynamics of terrorism in the region.  According to Zagazola, “On 21 August 2018, Mamman Nur was eliminated in a mutiny led by Abou-Mossab Albarnawyy in company of some ISWAP fighters. Nur was killed for releasing the Government Girls Secondary School Dapchi girls, without demanding ransom from the Nigerian government. The elimination of Mamman Nur, saw the emergence of Abou-Mossab Albarnawyy as ISWAP spiritual leader.”

Mahmud’s surrender is seen by many as a significant blow to ISWAP, as it indicates a growing disillusionment among the group’s members. His decision to surrender also highlights the effectiveness of the Nigerian government’s counter-terrorism strategies, which have focused on encouraging defections and surrenders among terrorist groups.

After his surrender, Mahmud was debriefed and profiled by an intelligence officer of the NSCDC. He confessed to having taken part in attacks in Bama, Banki, Gwoza, and several other places as a middle-rank fighter under Boko Haram. He also provided valuable intelligence on the operations and leadership of ISWAP.

Mahmud’s surrender has sparked hopes of a possible reconciliation and reintegration into society. He has been handed over to the Bulunkutu rehabilitation facility for further documentation and custody. The facility, which has been established by the Nigerian government to rehabilitate former terrorists, provides a range of programs aimed at deradicalization, education, and vocational training.

Mahmud’s story serves as a reminder that even those who have been involved in terrorism can change and seek resolution of criminal charges against them. His decision to surrender and cooperate with the authorities is a testament to the power of forgiveness and second chances.

As Nigeria continues to grapple with the challenges of terrorism, Mahmud’s story offers a glimmer of hope. It shows that even in the darkest of times, there is always the possibility of redemption and forgiveness. His journey serves as a reminder that the fight against terrorism is not just about military victories, but also about winning the hearts and minds of those who have been misled and deceived.

In the end, Mahmud’s story is one of courage and redemption. It is a reminder that no matter how far we may have strayed, we always have the power to choose a different path. His decision to surrender and cooperate with the authorities is a testament to the human capacity for change and forgiveness. As Nigeria continues to navigate the complex landscape of terrorism, Mahmud’s story serves as a beacon of hope for a brighter future.

Mike Odeh James and Segun Onibiyo are Kaduna-based conflict reporters for

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