Nigerian army says Boko Haram leader probably dead
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nigeria's military says the leader of the militant Boko Haram group probably died from wounds sustained in a gun battle with security forces, a development that could set back its violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Africa's largest oil producer.
Abubakar Shekau was injured on June 30 in a clash at Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria, Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military task force fighting the Islamists, said in an emailed statement Monday, citing intelligence reports. He provided no evidence to back up the claim.
"Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon, for treatment," Musa said. "Shekau might have died between July 25 and Aug. 3."
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is a sin" in the Hausa language, has carried out gun and bomb attacks across Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and the capital, Abuja, killing thousands of people since 2009. Nigeria's more than 160 million people are roughly equally split between Christians, predominant in the south, and Muslims.
It was the second time in a week that defense officials announced the death of a senior Boko Haram commander. On Aug. 14, Nigeria's Defense Ministry said the group's second in command, Momodu Bama, was killed in clashes with security forces. Bama's death "has been confirmed by other arrested terrorists," ministry spokesman Chris Olukolade said at the time. That claim has not been verified independently.
"The media should take the claim with a pinch of salt until the death is independently confirmed," Sebastian Spio- Garbrah, managing director of New York-based DaMina Advisors, frontier-market analysts, said Tuesday in an emailed response to questions. While Shekau's death would demoralize his followers and boost the government, Boko Haram will remain active "for the foreseeable future as the material social- economic conditions which led to its rise and sustains it are still there," he said.
Three months ago, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and started an air and ground offensive in the outlawed group's stronghold. The army appealed to the Islamist fighters "to lay down their arms and embrace the federal government's offer for dialogue."
In a video emailed on Aug. 12, Shekau claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Borno and Yobe states and said the group's strength hadn't been dented by a government campaign against it.
"We have killed countless soldiers and we are going to kill more," Shekau said in the video.
The army said in Monday's statement that the video was faked, made "by an impostor to hoodwink sect members to continue the terrorism and to deceive undiscerning minds."
Shekau ordered the kidnap of seven French citizens in neighboring Cameroon earlier this year, the bombing of the United Nations office in Abuja in 2011 and the police headquarters in the capital in 2009 among scores of attacks, according to the military statement.
The U.S. government in June offered to pay a reward of as much as $7 million for information leading to the arrest of Shekau, whom it named a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" in June 2012. Jonathan declared Boko Haram a terrorist organization on June 5 and said supporters or members of the group who were caught faced at least 20 years in jail.