The Nigerian terror group Boko Haram allegedly confirmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Wednesday that its former leader, Abubakar Shekau, died during infighting between Boko Haram and a rival Islamic State-affiliated faction, Africa News reported on Thursday.
Boko Haram’s alleged new leader, Bakura Modu, sent a video to AFP on Wednesday in which he asks “Allah to bless the soul of Shekau [who died] as a martyr,” according to Africa News.
“In the short video in Arabic, top Boko Haram commander Bakura Modu, also known as Sahaba, urged his faction’s commanders to remain loyal despite the loss of their historic commander,” AFP reported on June 16.
“The video, provided to AFP by a source close to Boko Haram and confirmed to be Bakura Modu by another local source, illustrates that jihadist infighting is far from over in Africa’s most populous nation,” according to the international news agency.
Boko Haram’s video announcement appears to confirm weeks of speculation that Shekau had died after Nigerian media outlets published an unverified audio clip on May 20 in which a voice claiming to be that of Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, the commander of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), alleged that Shekau killed himself while fleeing ISWAP terrorists.
Boko Haram formally rebranded as ISWAP in 2015, so the two groups are technically one and the same, but al-Barnawi has been building a defector wing against Shekau for years within the organization. Shekau reportedly opposed Boko Haram’s merger with ISWAP despite pledging allegiance to Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Shekau loyalists and ISIS supporters have often violently clashed with one another since 2016.
“Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is dead,” Nigerian news site HumAngle reported on May 20, adding that Shekau died on the night of May 19, “following the invasion of the terror group [Boko Haram]’s stronghold in the Sambisa forest area [of northeastern Nigeria] by a column of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters.”
“ISWAP, which had broken away from the Shekau-led Boko Haram faction in 2016 after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), raided the group’s hideout using multiple gun trucks,” according to HumAngle.
“Shekau’s enclave was tracked down by ISWAP using its forces based in the Timbuktu Triangle [of the Sambisa Forest]. His fighters were killed in the process, followed by a long gunfire exchange between the invading group and Shekau’s bodyguards,” the news site detailed.
ISWAP defeated Shekau’s bodyguards, prompting him to surrender. Shekau then “engaged in an hours-long meeting with the ISWAP fighters. During the parley, he was asked to voluntarily relinquish power and order his fighters in other areas to declare bai’a (allegiance) to ISWAP’s authority,” HumAngle reported.
The news site further claimed that “Shekau … secretly had a suicide vest on [and] eventually blew himself up alongside everyone present during the negotiations.”
ISWAP was openly hostile to Shekau for encouraging Boko Haram to kill Muslims and non-Muslims alike during violent raids throughout northern Nigeria and the neighboring states of Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. Shekau’s targeting of Muslim “believers” undermined the ISIS objective of carrying out a jihadist insurgency across northern Nigeria to establish an Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region, according to ISWAP.