President Idriss Deby of Chad told reporters during a joint press conference with Niger’s head of state that his military knows the whereabouts of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, and that it was in the “best interests” of the terrorist leader to surrender.
“It is in Abubakar Shekau’s interest to surrender, we know where he is. If he refuses to give himself up, he will suffer the same fate as his comrades,” he said at the French-language press conference, where Deby also asserted that authorities are aware of Shekau’s position. Reportedly, he was last seen in the town of Dikwa, which was recently liberated from Boko Haram control, sending Shekau fleeing.
Deby claimed Shekau was in Dikwa “two days ago.” The Osun Defender, a regional newspaper, notes that there is evidence to believe Dikwa was being used as an operations base and not just conquered territory. According to the newspaper, citing interviews with Chadian soldiers at Reuters, one building appeared to be a “command centre,” where a high number of Boko Haram jihadists were found hiding in wardrobes and closets. The soldiers reportedly killed over 100 terrorists to reclaim the town.
Nigeria’s Vanguard reports that the assertions that Chad’s military knows where Abubakar Shekau is complicate the confusing narrative surrounding who Shekau is and how to stop him. The newspaper notes that Nigerian security believe he took over the Boko Haram terrorist group in 2010, but that there is no guarantee that the man identified five years ago as Shekau is the same man currently still featured in Boko Haram propaganda videos. In fact, Vanguard notes the Nigerian military has claimed Shekau is “a composite character whose role is taken by a rotating cast of different militant fighters.”
In September, Nigerian soldiers alleged that they had killed Shekau–or, at least, the man who was claiming to be Shekau in multiple propaganda videos. African media react with skepticism, with some outlets claiming that the man killed–of whom the Nigerian military provided photographic evidence–was an impersonator, not the real Boko Haram leader. Boko Haram subsequently released a video featuring a man claiming he was Shekau, asserting that he was alive and well. The Nigerian government responded by vowing to kill anyone impersonating Shekau, as well. Vanguard notes that American officials have also expressed skepticism whenever any claims have been made regarding Shekau’s capture.
Boko Haram continues to control a territory the size of Ireland that covers a large chunk of northeastern Nigeria and small parts of Cameroon. A military coalition of soldiers from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger have united to counter increasingly violent attacks from Boko Haram jihadists.