The past few days have been pivotal to the Nigerian government’s fight to eradicate the jihadist terrorist group Boko Haram, as rumors flew throughout African media of the death of Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader. As reports surface of jihadists increasingly surrendering to authorities, the Nigerian military has warned it will kill anyone who dares use the name “Abubakar Shekau” to rekindle support for the group.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the man appearing in propaganda videos calling for the mass killing, abducting, and raping of Christians in the nation remain murky. Reports first indicated that Cameroon’s military had killed Shekau, thought it was later reported that only Nigerian troops were involved. Then it was reported that the man killed was not Abubakar Shekau, but an impersonator.
As information has surfaced, Nigerian media have appeared to come to some consensus that the man killed is one Bashir Mohammed, the man using the nom de guerre “Abubakar Shekau” to run Boko Haram for at least the past year, appearing in videos vowing to sell Christian girls into slavery and mocking the West’s efforts against radical Islam. The real Abubakar Shekau is believed to have been killed in 2013, authorities said in an announcement of the death of the second Shekau.
To prove that the man in the video was indeed killed, Nigerian authorities have released a photo comparing the dead man to the man in Boko Haram propaganda videos, as well as a video of the dead body:
The announcement of Shekau’s death has had an immediate effect on the fight against Boko Haram in Nigeria, now believed to control a land mass the size of Ireland in northeast Borno and Adamawa states. Nigerian authorities have reported an increased number of surrenders of Boko Haram jihadists, who have given up in the wake of Shekau’s death. But Nigerian authorities have been here before, allegedly killing the real Shekau, and are working to prevent the possibility of a third “Shekau” rising from the dead, creating out of the name a title for any leader of Boko Haram.
As Nigeria’s Vanguard reports, the nation’s Defence Headquarters are warning that they will kill anyone impersonating Shekau or going by that name to propagate jihad. According to the Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, 268 jihadists have surrendered to Nigerian authorities since the announcement of the death of Shekau. The military intends to keep “Shekau” dead: “Since the name Shekau has become a brand name for the terrorists leader, the Nigerian military remains resolute to serve justice to anyone who assumes that designation or title as well as all terrorists that seek to violate the freedom and territory of Nigeria.”
Before the announcement of Shekau’s death this week, Boko Haram had been making significant gains in Borno state, even threatening its capital, Maiduguri, and destroying churches and abducting and killing Christians in surrounding areas.