The Nigerian army claims to have “fatally wounded” the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, in an air strike targeting a meeting of the Islamist group’s commanders.
As the US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Nigeria for talks on regional security, the military said Shekau and other senior militants were hit by an air force raid as they gathered for prayers on Friday 23 August.
Sani Kukasheka Usman, a colonel and acting director of army public relations, said a number of commanders were confirmed dead in the strike, naming them as Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman, and said Shekau was “believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders”.
Usman described the strikes as “the most unprecedented and spectacular air raid”, which took place “while the terrorists were performing Friday rituals” at Taye village in the Sambisa forest of Borno State. “Several other terrorists were wounded,” he said.
Before talks in the capital Abuja with the president Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Kerry met with the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, the Sultan of Sokoto, in the northern city of the same name.
He made no reference to the army’s report, but thanked the Sultan for his work preaching tolerance and bringing together interfaith groups “to do the hard work of pushing back against extremism”.
Mr Kerry also called for empathy on all sides of the conflict in northern Nigeria, even for former Boko Haram fighters.
“Breaking the cycle of violence requires treating those who escape or defect from Boko Haram, and particularly those who were abducted against their will, with sensitivity as they return to their old communities,” Kerry said.
It is not the first time the Nigerian army has reported the death of Shekau, who led a breakaway faction of Boko Haram when the main bulk of the group declared allegiance to Isis.
Shekau's death was reported in 2013 and again in September 2014. A month later, Shekau released a video saying: “Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath.” The Nigerian army amended its report to say it believed a double for Shekau going by the name Isa Damsaka had been killed instead.
The leader last appeared in a video released earlier this month, in which he threatened a major attack on the city of Abuja.
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