The Nigerian military has announced yet again that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is “fatally wounded” after a targeted airstrike in the country’s Northeast.
The news arrives more than eight months since President Muhammadu Buhari declared the war against Boko Haram over, and shortly after yet another Boko Haram raid on the town of Chibok, home to the famed abducted schoolgirls.
Conflicting reports indicate that Shekau’s influence over Boko Haram waned significantly following Boko Haram’s rebranding as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), while someone identifying himself as Shekau has repeatedly released audio recordings asserting he is still alive and in charge of the terrorist organization.
“In what one could describe as the most unprecedented and spectacular air raid, we have just confirmed that as a result of the interdiction efforts of the Nigerian Air Force, some key leaders of the Boko Haram terrorists have been killed while others were fatally wounded,” Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman told reporters on Tuesday, according to Nigerian newspaper Vanguard. Shekau, in particular, he claimed, was “fatally wounded on his shoulders.” The report also named a number of individuals identified as senior leaders within Boko Haram who were reportedly killed.
In late 2014, during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Cameroonian army released photos of a body they claimed was that of Abubakar Shekau. At the time, the Daily Mail reported that Shekau had been killed “dozens of times” before the military was forced to walk back the claim and confirm the head man to be an impersonator.
Shekau has rarely allowed himself to be seen since then, however, appearing sporadically to remind people he is not dead. In August 2015, he released a video to assert just that, amid rumors that a significant portion of the terror group was defecting.
Following reports that Islamic State leaders had wrestled leadership from Shekau, he released a video in March, warning that “for me, the end has come,” but reaffirming his jihadist beliefs.
The end had not come. Earlier this month, Shekau resurfaced in an audio recording, denying that Islamic State operative Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the new head of Boko Haram and accusing a number of the group’s members of betraying him.
Now, the Nigerian military yet again asserts Shekau is dead, one of an estimated 300 Boko Haram terrorists killed in the recent round of airstrikes.
Nigerian officials are looking for good news amid the latest string of Boko Haram attacks. On Monday, reports surfaced that the terrorists attacked the northeastern town of Chibok yet again, kidnapping 13 people and killing another 10. The attack followed the release of a video showing a number of the missing Chibok girls, kidnapped in April 2014 and still in Boko Haram captivity. The video also showed bodies of young girls the terrorists claimed had been killed by Nigerian airstrikes.
American Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Nigeria Tuesday to aid in the fight against Boko Haram. While events with President Buhari will be closed to the press, Kerry has made some limited public statements. “We have to strike at the root of violent extremism. Nations need to do more than just denounce dead-end ideologies. There are far too many who join the ranks of these organisations because they have trouble finding meaning in their lives,” he said upon arrival.
Kerry designated Boko Haram a terrorist group after his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, refused to do so for years.