The leader of Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has been seriously injured after trying to kill himself to avoid capture by rival jihadists, two intelligence sources said.
Abubakar Shekau was fighting ISIS-aligned militants from the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) in northern Nigeria when he was injured on Wednesday, the sources told AFP news agency today.
The fighting occurred in Borno state, where ISWAP has become the dominant force in Nigeria’s more than a decade-long jihadist insurgency.
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 first launched its insurrection in 2009.
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The intelligence sources offered differing reports on how he became injured. One said that, after a series of clashes, he and some of his fighters were surrounded by ISWAP jihadists in Boko Haram’s Sambisa forest stronghold, where they demanded he surrender.
‘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 managed to escape with him to an unknown destination, the source added.
The second intelligence source told AFP that Shekau, 48, was critically wounded after detonating explosives in the house where he was holed up with his men.
‘We are investigating,’ Nigeria’s army spokesman Mohammed Yerima told AFP by text, asked about those reports.
Shekau’s critical injury or death would be a blow to his Boko Haram faction which has already been weakened by military air strikes on its bases and defections among his men.
More than 40,000 people have been killed and over two million displaced from their homes by the conflict in northeast Nigeria, and fighting has spread to parts of neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Boko Haram and ISWAP have fought battles for control of territory in the past.
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