Boko Haram militant leader is dead, Nigerian military says
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The Nigerian military said Wednesday that it had killed a man posing as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and confirmed that Shekau had been killed earlier. The announcement comes after previous claims of his death in 2009 and 2013.
The army also said that 135 Boko Haram fighters had surrendered their weapons to Nigerian troops on Tuesday in the northeast town of Buni Yadi, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of Konduga in Borno state.
Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade told reporters in Abuja on Wednesday that the Nigerian army had killed a man posing as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, who Olukolade said had also been killed. He said an Islamist fighter identified as Mohammed Bashir died in clashes in Konduga, adding that Bashir was the man who appeared in recent videos released by the group.
Bashir had been "acting or posing as the deceased Abubakar Shekau", who Olukolade called "the eccentric character known as the leader of the group".
The military did not say when or how Shekau was killed and the announcement comes after two previous claims by security sources that he had died, one in July 2009 and another in late June 2013.
The many faces of Shekau
A spokeswoman for the Department of State Security Service, Marilyn Ogar, said again in May that "the original" Shekau was dead, adding that the man who now appears in videos released by the Islamist group was an imposter.
Security sources say that the actual identity of the group's leader may not be key to its operations, as any number of Boko Haram fighters stand ready to take on the leadership role as required.
Olukolade told the news conference that the name "Shekau" had become something of a "brand name for the terrorists", and that many different Boko Haram commanders may have used that moniker.
These include Abdullahi Damasak, who was succeeded upon his death by Mustapha Chad, according to sources close to the group.
In this way Boko Haram may be seeking to bestow a semblance of immortality on its former chief.
But Olukolade said the army was committed to defeating any or all of the group's leaders. "The Nigerian military remains resolute to serve justice to anyone who assumes that designation or title, as well as all the terrorists that seek to violate the freedom and territory of Nigeria," he said.
Olukolade told the briefing that Bashir had also used several identities, among them "Bashir Mohammed, alias Abubakar Shekau, alias Abacha Abdullahi Geidam, alias Damasak, etc."
Washington officially designated Boko Haram a terrorist organisation in November last year. The United States also offered a $7 million reward for Shekau's capture as part of its Rewards for Justice programme and designated him a "global terrorist".
Britain, Nigeria’s former colonial ruler, and France have also branded the Islamists a "terrorist" group.
Scepticism amid death claims
To prove its claims, the Nigerian military showed an amateur video recording of the fighting in Konduga in which bodies littered the streets.
Pointing to a bearded man lying dead on the ground alongside another slain fighter, Olukolade said: "That character tallies with the one that has been showing himself on the video."
A close-up photograph of the man's face was projected alongside a screengrab from a Boko Haram video of Shekau holding an assault rifle. An arrow pointed out a small growth on the foreheads of both men.
The United States voiced skepticism Thursday over the reports that Shekau had been killed.
"The Nigerians have announced several times that the head of Boko Haram was dead, and every single time we find out that it is not true," a senior State Department official told reporters.
Some regional analysts said earlier this week that they also remained sceptical about any such claims.
Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at Red24 risk consultants in South Africa, said he thought it unlikely that Boko Haram's commander would have been in the thick of battle in Konduga or anywhere else.
But Jacob Zenn, from the Jamestown Foundation thinktank in the United States, said the death of a Shekau double in Konduga was plausible.
"It's important to note, however, that Shekau may have had 'doubles' who appeared in some videos. And the army has a record of being incorrect about claims of Shekau's death," he said.
He said the truth will likely only be known when another video emerges "from Shekau, or someone who purports to be Shekau".
Army under pressure
Nigeria's military has come under increasing pressure to regain territory lost to the Islamists, who have seized control of a string of towns stretching over 200 miles along Nigeria’s northeast border with Cameroon in recent weeks.
Thousands of civilians have been forced from their homes in the latest offensive, joining the more than 1.5 million people who have already been displaced within Nigeria or who have fled across the border to Niger, Cameroon and Chad, according to UN figures.
Addressing the annual UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to step up the fight against Boko Haram.
"Let me underline today that we shall not waver until we end this mindless war on innocents and bring all the perpetrators to justice. We will triumph over terrorism," he said.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden" in the local Hausa language, has been waging an increasingly bloody insurgency to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria since 2009.
The group stole international headlines in April when it stormed a school in Chibok and kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, most between 12 and 17 years of age.
A month later, Boko Haram released a video in which a man thought to be Shekau threatened to sell the girls into slavery. In another video released soon after, the man said the militants would free the girls in a prisoner exchange, an offer the Nigerian authorities rejected.
President Jonathan, who has come under fire for failing to do more to rescue the girls, told the General Assembly that Nigerian authorities were still working to free the some 200 schoolgirls still being held by the militants.
“Although it has been over three months since they were abducted, we have never relented in our efforts to set them safely free,” Jonathan told the 193-member world body.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)
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