- (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram, may be dead, Nigerian authorities announced in a recent "intelligence report."
Lt-Col Sagir Musa, a spokesman for Nigeria's army, said in a recent intelligence report that Shekau may have been killed in a firefight when security forces stormed a Boko Haram hideout in the Sambisa Forest, in north-eastern Nigeria, in late July. Members of the Boko Haram group have yet to comment on the claim.
"Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide - a border community in Cameroon for treatment […] It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August 2013," Col. Musa said in a statement, according to BBC News.
This announcement comes days after the country's Defense Ministry announced that it had killed Boko Haram's second in command, Momodu Bama, while security forces engaged him in a firefight. Neither the death of Bama or Shekau have been confirmed independently, although authorities insisted on Aug. 14 that leading terrorists had admitted to Bama's death.
Many in Nigeria have remained skeptical of the army's recent announcements. A senior member of the military told the widely-read Punch newspaper that the statement regarding Shekau's death was premature, as not enough evidence had been gathered. Additionally, the senior official argued the timing of the announcement was "suspicious," as the current duty task force assigned to Boko Haram has recently wrapped up its duties of investigating the militant organization and passed on the responsibility to a newly created military division.
"The hurried release of the news of the killing of Shekau on the date a new division of the Nigerian army was taking over from the [Joint Task Force] was rather suspicious," a senior security official told Punch newspaper, referring to the retiring task force.
Additionally, a correspondent for Al Jazeera said it is difficult for media groups to get clarification on Shekau's death because authorities are not allowing rights groups or media near Boko Haram-dominated zones.
"The Nigerian military have not yet provided any video or photographic evidence to back up what they're saying," the correspondent said. "The public no doubt will be waiting for some [...] evidence of Abubakar Shekau's death."
The task force's announcement came a week after a man claiming to be Shekau spoke in a video posted on the Internet regarding various attacks that happened in the days following his alleged death. The Joint Task Force has claimed the person speaking in the videos was a Shekau imposter meant to motivate fellow Boko Haram members to continue their attacks.
Since 2009, the Boko Haram group has been terrorizing the northern part of Nigeria, using violence and planned attacks in a push for a completely Islamic state in the country. A few months ago, Nigerian president Goodluck Johnson declared a state of emergency in the country's northeast states, saying the militant group had taken over the area, including some local governments. The country is split between a mainly Christian population in the south and a predominately Muslim population in the north.
In most recent attacks, Boko Haram reportedly stormed a mosque in Konduga and killed 44 worshippers in mid-August. Another report indicates that the group stormed the northern town of Damboa in Borno state and opened fire on civilians, killing 11.
Earlier in August, the International Criminal Court accused Boko Haram of possible crimes against humanity, saying the terrorist organization has killed an estimated 1,200 civilians, Muslims and Christians both in different parts of Nigeria, since its insurgence re-started in 2009.