Kano, Nigeria: Nigeria’s army said on Monday that the leader of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, may have died following a gunshot wound from a clash with soldiers.
Intelligence reports “available to the (military) revealed that Abubakar Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted Boko Haram terrorists leader, may have died,” a statement said.
“It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August 2013.”
According to the statement, Shekau, declared a “global terrorist” by the US government, was shot on June 30 during a clash with troops at a Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria.
It said he was then clandestinely taken over the border into Cameroon for treatment. The army statement was contradictory, first saying that Shekau “may have died” while at other points implying that he was indeed dead.
It said he had been taken into the border community of Amitchide in Cameroon and implied he may have died there.
Shekau has been considered the leader of the main Islamist extremist faction of Boko Haram. The group’s insurgency has left at least 3,600 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces.
Nigeria’s military began a sweeping offensive in the country’s northeast in May aiming to end the insurgency. It has however often exaggerated claims related to the military effort targeting Boko Haram, and the report on Shekau had not been independently verified.
The statement was issued by Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Mousa, spokesman for a security joint task force in northeastern Nigeria.
National defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade seemed to distance himself from the statement when contacted by AFP, saying security forces were still looking for conclusive evidence of Shekau’s death.
The United States in March put a $7 million (Dh25.7 million) bounty on Shekau’s head.
He has often sent out video messages from unknown locations. In a video message seen by AFP on August 12, a man who appeared to be Shekau insisted that he was in good health and referred to attacks in early August.
The military statement said the video was a fake.
“The recent video released on 13 August 2013 by the purported sect leader was dramatised by an impostor to hoodwink the sect members to continue with the terrorism and to deceive the undiscerning minds,” the statement said.
Boko Haram has claimed to be fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, though the group is believed to have a number of factions with varying aims.
Nigeria’s 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Christian south and mostly Muslim north.