Nigerian Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was seriously wounded after attempting to kill himself so as not to be captured in clashes with rival Islamic State jihadists in the north of the country, two intelligence sources said Thursday.
Shekau’s Boko Haram faction and fighters from the West African province of Islamic State fought in the northeastern state of Borno, where ISWAP fighters have become the dominant force in Nigeria’s more than ten-year jihadist uprising.
Shekau, who made international headlines when his men kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014, has been reported dead several times since Boko Haram began its riot in 2009.
After a series of clashes, Shekau and some of his fighters were surrounded by ISWAP jihadists in the Sambisa forest stronghold of Boko Haram on Wednesday, where they demanded his surrender, an intelligence source said.
“To avoid capture, Shekau shot himself in the chest and the bullet pierced his shoulder,” the source said, adding, “He was badly injured.”
Some of his men escaped with him to an unknown destination, the source added.
A second intelligence source said Shekau was seriously injured after setting off explosives in the house where he holed up with his men.
The Nigerian Army and Nigerian officials did not immediately respond to requests to confirm the incident.
Shekau’s critical injury or death would be a blow to his Boko Haram faction, already weakened by military air strikes on their bases and raids among his men.
More than 40,000 people were killed in the conflict in northeastern Nigeria and over two million were displaced from their homes. The fighting has spread to parts of neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Boko Haram and ISWAP have fought for control of the territory in the past.
ISWAP has emerged as the stronger force carrying out complex attacks on the military and overrun army bases.
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Shekau took over Boko Haram, officially known as Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati whale jihad, after its founder Muhammad Yusuf was killed by police in 2009.
Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram turned large parts of the northeast into a restricted area and in 2014 proclaimed a “caliphate” in the Borno city of Gwoza.
An offensive since 2015 by Nigerian forces, backed by soldiers from Cameroon, Chad and Niger, drove jihadists out of most of the area they once controlled.
Annoyed by Shekau’s indiscriminate crackdown on civilians and the use of suicide bombers against women and children, a rival faction disbanded in 2016 to become ISWAP, with the support of the Islamic state group.
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