The militant group Islamic State of the West African Province (Iswap) said in audio recordings obtained by news agencies AFP and Reuters on Sunday that Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian Islamic faction Boko Haram, committed suicide during a fight between members of the two groups.
A person who identifies himself as the leader of the Iswap, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, says in the recording that Shekau died on May 18 after detonating an explosive while being chased by rivals.
“Abubakar Shekau, God judged you by sending you to heaven,” says the man. “Shekau preferred being humiliated in the afterlife to being humiliated on Earth, and he killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive.”
In the recording, he explains that his fighters were chasing Shekau by order of the group’s leadership. The leader of Boko Haram would have been offered the chance to surrender and join the Iswap, but the offer was refused.
Last month, Nigerian authorities produced an intelligence report stating that Shekau was dead or, at the very least, seriously injured. According to the document, Iswap militants had demanded that Shekau take an oath of loyalty to Al-Barnawi.
What happened next has two different versions: in one of them, the leader of the Boko Haram would have used a weapon, a grenade or a type of belt to take his own life. Another version, according to British newspaper The Guardian, is more similar to the audio report released on Sunday, saying that Shekau had detonated explosives in the house where he was hiding with his men.
Political analysts say Shekau’s death could lead to an end to a violent rivalry between the two groups, allowing the Iswap to absorb Boko Haram fighters and consolidate its hold in northeastern Nigeria. This would allow Iswap to focus its action on the government and the Armed Forces, whose war efforts are running out.
Shekau, whose death has been announced on other occasions, is held responsible for leading Boko Haram’s transformation from an underground Islamic sect in 2009 into a full-blown insurgency, killing, kidnapping and looting across northeastern Nigeria.
The group is estimated to have killed more than 30,000 people, forced an estimated 2 million to flee their homes and created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Iswap was already part of Boko Haram, but five years ago it split from it and swore allegiance to the Islamic State — the split occurred because of differences over the murder of civilians by the group.