Doubts Emerge Over Death of Boko Haram LeaderAugust 21, 2013 in Africa, Nigeria
Doubts have emerged this week over the Nigerian military’s claims that the leader of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram may have been killed. Questions have been raised over the timing of the announcement, which came on the day that the Joint Task Force (JTF) concluded its work and handed over its duties to a newly created military division that has been charged with the battle to end Boko Haram’s four-year insurgency.
On Monday, a security task force in north-eastern Nigeria issued a statement indicating that Abubakar Shekau, who was declared a “global terrorist” by the United States, “may have died” from a gunshot wound after a clash with soldiers on Jun 30.” The statement further noted that “it is greatly believed that Shekau may have died between 25 July to 3 August 2013” after being taken over the border into Amitchide in neighboring Cameroon. The statement also indicated that an intelligence report suggests that Shekau was shot when soldiers raided a Boko Haram base at Sambisa Forest in north-eastern Nigeria.
However by Tuesday, local media reported that there had been increasing unease within the military pertaining to the claims. Task force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa declined to comment when contacted about the statement, indicating only that he had left Maiduguri, which is the epicentre of Boko Haram’s insurgency and where the force was based. National defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade has also distanced himself from the statement. Some sources have indicated that senior members within the military were unhappy with the release of the statement as there was not yet enough evidence to make such claims and that intelligence was still being analyzed.
Claims of Shekau’s death come one week after the Nigerian military stated that on 14 August, it had killed Boko Haram’s second-in-comment, Momodu Bama, also known by his alias “Abu Saad.” However so far, there have been confirmations relating to his death. In turn, a video message released on 12 August depicted a man who appeared to be Shekau, who insisted that he was in good health. He had also referred to attacks which had occurred in early August. The military statement released on Monday however has specified that the video was a fake. So far there have been no independent confirmations pertaining to this video.
Washington’s response to these latest claims have come with the US State Department stating that it had seen the reports pertaining to Shekau and that it was currently “working to ascertain the facts,” nothing that he had already been falsely reported dead in 2009. US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf added that “he is the most visible leader of Boko Haram, and if his death turns out to be true, the loss of such a central and well-known figure would set back Boko Haram’s operations and remove a key voice from its efforts to mobilize violent extremists in Nigeria and around the world.”
Shekau has been considered the leader of Boko Haram ever since the terrorist group’s founder Muhammad Yusuf, died in 2009 while in police custody. Since taking over, the terrorist group’s insurgency has seen a violent turn, with thousands being killed in attacks that have been carried out on school children, teachers the UN, the police, north-eastern traditional leaders, journalists, mobile phone towers and ordinary Nigerians going about their lives. In March of this year, the United States placed a US $7 million (5.3 million euro) bounty on his head. If these most recent claims of Abubakar Shekau’s death are confirmed, his passing will likely represent a significant moment in the future of the terrorist group, however it is unlikely that Boko Haram will end its violence in the northern regions of the Nigeria. Instead, this may fuel further retaliatory attacks that will likely target political and security officials along with military bases. Furthermore, the group has a number of factions, such as al-Qaeda-linked Ansaru, which has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and killing of a number of Westerners. Such factions are believed to operate independently and any confirmations of Shekau’s death will likely result in retaliatory kidnappings and attacks that will be linked to his death.