By OLAKUNLE OLAFIOYE
FOR years, he lived in the shadows, a phantom menace whose hideout was known to a few trusted allies. Together with his bloodthirsty cohorts, he exhorted his followers to seek faux martyrdom in suicide assaults against Nigeria and Nigerians while he remained perpetually on the run. Although his name is Mohammed Usman, the alleged mastermind of the August 26, 2011 United Nations building bombing, is so known as Khalid Al-Barnawi.
But last week the chicken finally came home to roost, when Al-Barwani was smoked out from his hideout, more than four years after he became a fugitive. Intelligence report claims that he operated under a number of pseudonyms, a factor many believe aided his seeming invincibility and elusiveness until last week when he was arrested.
Al-Barnawi at some point went by the name Alhaji Yahaya. He would even disguise as Kafuri, Naziru, Mallam Dauda, Alhaji Taminu among other names apparently to conceal his evil identity.
Despite becoming a fugitive since August 2011, when he was believed to have coordinated the attack on the Abuja United Nations (UN) building, Al-Barwani would not relent in his war against the nation. Investigation by the Department of State Services, DSS, linked him to major attacks on Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Sokoto and Abuja. His murderous attacks are believed to have resulted in the killing and maiming of countless number of innocent and defenseless people.
Usman gained international notoriety for allegedly spearheading the August 26, 2011, murderous attack on the Abuja United Nations’ building. The incident happened about 11:00am on the fateful day, in the diplomatic zone in the centre of the city.
The bomb-laden car reportedly broke through two security barriers before its driver detonated the bomb after crashing it into the UN building reception area. The bomb caused devastation to the building’s lower floors. The building served as the headquarters for about 400 UN employees. It was, however, not clear how many were inside the building at the time of the attack.
A wing of the building collapsed while the ground floor was badly damaged. Emergency services were quickly mobilised to the scene, to convey the dead to morgues while the injured were rushed to the hospitals. As part of the rescue efforts, cranes were equally brought in to move the heavy concrete slabs and ensure that no one was trapped in the rubble.
By the time the dust settled, no fewer than 21 people were confirmed dead with 73 others sustaining varying degrees of injuries. An insurgent group thought to be Boko Haram reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack hours after the incident. The spokesperson of the group who identified himself as Abu Darda was quoted to have said: “Through the wisdom of Allah, we have launched the attack with absolute precision. The attack was carefully scripted and executed. We have said it several times that the UN is one of our prime targets.”
United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki moon described the attack as an “assault on those who devote themselves to helping others,” while the then Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuliri said: “This is not an attack on Nigeria but an attack on the global community, an attack on the world.”
But in September 2011, the DSS allegedly identified one Mamman Nur (It is however unclear if Mamman Nur is the same person as Al-Barwani) as the mastermind behind the attack and offered a 26 million (US$160,000) bounty to anyone who would volunteer vital information on the whereabouts of the alleged mastermind. Also four suspects were arrested and arraigned before an Abuja magistrates’ court for allegedly organising the bombing and later taken before a federal high court.
Besides the August 26, 2011 bombing, Al-Barnawi’s sins are legion according to the recent statement released by DSS. “ Al-Barnawi is also responsible for the kidnapping of two European civil engineers in Kebbi State in May, 2011, and their subsequent murder in Sokoto State; the kidnap of a German engineer, Edgar Raupach in January 2012, the kidnap and murder of seven expatriate staff of Setraco Construction Company at Jama’are, in Bauchi State in February, 2013, the attack of Nigerian troops at Okene in Kogi State, while on transit to Abuja for an official assignment,” the statement added.
Although not much is known about his growing up, Usman is believed to be a founding member of the dreaded Jama’at Ahlas Sunnah lid Da’wah Wa’I-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram. He, however, ceased to be a member of the group when sometimes around September 2015, after some Boko Haram leaders were reported to have gone into hiding following relentless assault by the Nigerian military on the group.
Al- Barwani, according to one Fula Nasralla, a journalist with information on the internal working of the Boko Haram, would later split from the insurgent group and formed a faction known as Harakatul-Muhajirin Wal Mujahidin. He became the leader of the group under the name Khalid Al-Barnawi. His group has been accused of being responsible for the spate of suicide bombings that rocked some parts of the North between the months of August and November 2015. His group was also linked to the bombing in the camp of the internally displaced persons in Yola last year.
Al-Barnawi who is believed to be a trained terrorist commander, apart from coordinating major attacks of the insurgent group, is also believed to serve as a scout for international terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda, identifying and recruiting vulnerable young and able Nigerians for the group.
With the arrest and the ongoing investigation by DSS, a good number of Nigerians believe that more chilling revelations of his deadly outings in Nigeria would be revealed. But it is more certain that the toxic legacy of his deeds will persist after he is gone.