The militant group of Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) said in an audio recording heard by Reuters on Sunday that Abubakar Shekau, leader of rival Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram, was dead. A person purporting to be ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi said on the audio recording that Abubakar Shekau died around May 18 after detonating an explosive device when he was pursued by ISWAP fighters following a battle. ISWAP fighters hunted down the warlord and offered him the chance to repent and join them, al-Barnawi said.
“Shekau preferred to be humiliated in the afterlife than getting humiliated on earth,” he said.
Army spokesman Brig Gen Mohammed Yerima told the media at the time the army was looking into what happened, but that it would not issue a statement until it got definitive proof.
One journalist with close links to security agencies said that Shekau died when ISWAP attacked Boko Haram positions in the Sambisa forest, north-east Nigeria.
He has been reported dead numerous times before, only to resurface.
Around 100 of the Chibok Girls are still missing, and some are thought to have died in captivity. Abubakar Shekau led the transformation of Boko Haram from an underground Islamic sect in 2009 to a full-fledged insurgency, killing, kidnapping and looting its way across northeast Nigeria. The group has killed more than 30,000 people, forced around 2 million people to flee their homes and spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Since breaking away, Iswap has displaced Boko Haram as the dominant insurgency in the region. Some predict Shekau’s death could lead to the end of the violent rivalry between the two groups, enabling Iswap to absorb Boko Haram fighters, but others say they will remain loyal to his ideas. “There’s division among Shekau’s followers about whether to join Iswap now or fight Iswap,” Jacob Zenn, editor of the Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, told the BBC “There was never a plan for the dictator of the group meeting his demise. It appears there will now be a chaotic period.”