Boko Haram Threatens Nigeria Even If Leader Abubakar Shekau's Death Is Confirmed

The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram will probably maintain its insurgency in Africa’s biggest oil producer even if army claims of its leader’s death are true, said analysts including Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military spokesman in the northeast, Sagir Musa, said in an Aug. 19 statement that Abubakar Shekau may have died from injuries sustained in a June 30 clash in the Sambisa Forest. Other than citing intelligence reports, he provided no evidence to back up the claim.

“If Shekau is dead, it is a victory on the side of the government, but it does not mean it will end the insurgency,” Sani said in an Aug. 20 phone interview from the northern city of Kaduna. “It’s a well organized group and someone else will take over.”

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, started in the northeastern town of Maiduguri. 

It has grown in sophistication under Shekau’s leadership, expanding its reach and spawning at least one splinter group believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. 

The militants have killed thousands of people in the past four years in a bid to impose Shariah law in Nigeria, a nation of more than 160 million almost equally split between Christians, predominant in the south, and Muslims.

“Shekau’s personality was a major factor in the degree of the escalation” of the violence, Freedom Onuoha, a research fellow at the National Defence College in Abuja, the capital, said by phone.

On Aug. 13, a man said to be Shekau appeared in a video claiming responsiblity for attacks in the states of Borno and Yobe and promising further assaults.

Video Appearance
“A lot has been said against us: that we are finished, they have finished with us. All these are lies,” he said. “We are alive. Nobody killed us, and we shall continue to kill until Boko Haram is accepted by the people.”

Nigeria’s army called the video a fake.

Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf as a religious sect that rejected Western influence and sought the strict implementation of Islam across northern states. Yusuf died in police custody in July 2009 after he was arrested during clashes between militants and security forces.

The group then went underground, re-emerging a year later and escalating its attacks. Under Shekau’s leadership, it soon started hitting targets far away from its Maiduguri base, bombing the United Nations building in Abuja in August 2011, and attacking mosques that do not share its fundamentalist ideology.
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