Shekau’s death was claimed in an audio recording by the rival Nigerian Isis-linked militant outfit Islamic State West African Province group (ISWAP), though Boko Haram itself has not confirmed the development.
According to the recording, Shekau died on 18 May after detonating an explosive device during a gunfight with ISWAP. The voice on the recording is said to be that of ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi. Reports of the death first started circulating around two weeks ago.
The voice in the audio, which Reuters and the AFP news agency said resembled that of al-Barnawi, said: “Shekau preferred to be humiliated in the hereafter to getting humiliated on earth. He killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive.”
He can be heard saying: “Abubakar Shekau, God has judged him by sending him to heaven.”
Prior to this, Shekau has been reported dead on numerous occasions, only for him to surface in videos later. The latest claim, however, is also the subject of a Nigerian intelligence report. Several Nigerian media outlets have separately reported the death.
Boko Haram has killed more than 30,000 people and forced about 2 million people to flee their homes. In 2014, the group kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls from the Chibok town that led to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign backed by then US First Lady Michelle Obama. Local reports say that about 100 girls are still missing.
ISWAP, initially a part of Boko Haram, split from the group in 2016 and pledged allegiance to Isis. At the time, Isis controlled large swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria.
In the audio, al-Barnawi is heard saying that ISWAP had sent fighters to Boko Haram’s enclave in the Sambisa forest and had engaged Shekau and his men in a firefight. He is heard saying: “From there he retreated and escaped, ran and roamed the bushes for five days. However, the fighters kept searching and hunting for him before they were able to locate him.”
Shekau’s death could have wider implications and potentially even end the rivalry between the two groups, allowing ISWAP to absorb Boko Haram’s remaining fighters and consolidate its hold on its territory in northeastern Nigeria.
Additional reporting by agencies