The extremist Boko Haram sect has launched daring attacks after the period Shekau is believed to have been killed.
If the death of the Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the insurgent Boko Haram, is eventually confirmed, it would signify a major victory for the Nigerian military which has battled the sect for over two years.
Monday’s announcement of the possible death of Mr. Shekau, the leader of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lil Da’awati wal Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, by the Joint Task Force, JTF, is, however, not the first report of death of Nigeria’s most wanted man.
Mr. Shekau was the second-in- command to the spiritual leader of the sect, Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in 2009 by the police after he was arrested and handed over to them by the military.
Initial reports suggest that Mr. Shekau himself was killed alongside his boss, but such report was proven wrong after he re-emerged and took responsibility for most of the sect’s attacks.
There were also reports of his killing by security agents in Kano after an exchange of fire in a Kano neighbourhood in 2011.
Mr. Shekau is thought to be in his early forties and was born in Shekau Village in Yobe State. He is believed to be a more hardline Islamist than Mr. Yusuf, the sect’s founder.
According to Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with extensive knowledge of the group’s operations, in a chat with BBC, Mr. Shekau is an introvert who hardly talks while in a group and is also fearless.
He had, in his videos posted on the internet, stated that he was leading a group that sought to promote an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria and would go to any length to achieve that. The group, under his guidance, conducted many suicide bombings, ranging from the UN House in Abuja, to the bombing of the Police Force Headquarters and Thisday newspaper office in Abuja among others.
The sect also carried out suicide attacks on many worship centres in Northern Nigeria killing thousands of people.
Leadership of the sect
Mr. Shekau, on whom the U.S. placed a $7 million (N1.1 billion), reportedly sneaked out of the country after escaping the onslaught of security agents on the sect in Maiduguri in 2009.
He was said to have mobilised a few of the sect’s members that survived to neighbouring Chad Republic where they went underground and strategised on how to launch attacks in Nigeria.
Mr. Shekau provided leadership to the remaining sect members and chaired the meetings of the ‘Shura council’ of the sect in which decisions to launch attacks are taken.
Knowledgeable sources said Mr. Shekau is hardly seen in public even by many who claim to be commanders’ in the sect.
Security sources also told PREMIUM TIMES that the Boko Haram leader never communicated by telephone thereby making it difficult to track him.
“He only uses human couriers to communicate with his subordinates and vice versa,” a security official involved in the operations in Borno said.
According to the JTF statement of Monday, “It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August, 2013″.
The military said the Boko Haram leader sustained several gunshot wounds in battles with soldiers during that period and could have died from the injuries.
If truly Mr. Shekau died within that period, then surely it did not affect the ability of the sect to perpetrate their criminal acts.
On August 4, a day after the period Mr. Shekau is believed to have died, suspected members of the Boko Haram launched an attack on two military camps in Mallam Fatori border village leading to the death of at least twelve soldiers.
A week later, suspected Boko Haram members also attacked a Mosque in Konduga town on August 11, killing at least 44 worshipers.
A day after the Konduga attack, a video was released in Maiduguri by the insurgents in which Mr. Shekau was seen taking responsibility for recent attacks carried out by the sect.
However, the JTF in its Monday statement rubbished the video, saying it was “dramatized by an impostor to hoodwink the sect members to continue with the terrorism and to deceive the undiscerning minds”.
Apart from the non-categorical statement by the JTF, no other evidence has been presented on Mr. Shekau’s death, thus raising questions about his death