Maiduguri — Military authorities in Borno State yesterday said Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau might have died from gunshot injuries sustained on June 30.
The Joint Task Force said in a statement in Maiduguri that "Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August" at Amitchide in Cameroon while nursing fatal wounds inflicted on him when troops attacked the Sambisa Forest.
The JTF revelation came just a week after a video posted on the internet showed a man claiming to be Shekau speaking on various events that happened days after the dates of his supposed death.
In the video released on August 12, the man spoke on the Eid el-Fitr celebration of August 8, as well as on the attacks launched by sect members in Gamboru-Ngala, Bama and Mallam Fatori in the first week of the month.
The 32-minute video showed the man claiming to be Shekau alone, wearing a green caftan, a cap and a turban. He had an AK-47 resting on his chest while holding a paper in his left hand and a chewing stick in his right hand.
His face and pattern of speech in Hausa and Arabic languages matched the previous videos released by Shekau, our correspondent said.
But JTF yesterday said the video must have been dramatised by an impostor as intelligence reports show Shekau had died days or weeks earlier.
"Intelligence report available to the Joint Task Force Operation RESTORE ORDER revealed that Abubakar Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted Boko Haram terrorists leader may have died," JTF spokesman Lt-Col. Sagir Musa said in the statement.
"He died of gunshot wound received in an encounter with the JTF troops in one of their camps at Sambisa Forest on 30 June 2013. Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroun for treatment which he never recovered.
"It is greatly believed that Shekau might have died between 25 July to 3 August, 2013.
"He was reported to have masterminded the kidnap of the seven French citizens and that of the elder statesman Alhaji (Dr) Shettima Ali Monguno in addition to many murders of Islamic clerics in Northern Nigeria. He was also responsible for bombings of many places of worship and public buildings including Police and United Nations headquarters in Abuja.
"The recent video released on 13 August, 20013 by the purported sect leader was dramatised by an imposter to hoodwink the sect members to continue with the terrorism and to deceive the undiscerning minds. The JTF wishes to appeal to the sect members to lay down their arms and embrace the Federal Government's offer for dialogue."
It was impossible to independently verify JTF's claim of Shekau's death, but our correspondent reports that a video clip has been circulating in Maiduguri in the past three days in which a Boko Haram suspect captured by 'Civilian JTF' vigilantes said he was sure Shekau is dead.
This is not the first time Shekau will be presumed dead. He was thought to have been killed in the July 2009 military onslaught in Maiduguri, but he resurfaced months later to launch a deadlier and more coordinated campaign of violence that has caused the death of thousands since then.
Shekau assumed the leadership of the Jama'atu Ahlis Sunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad, also known as Boko Haram, soon after security operatives killed sect founder and leader Mohammed Yusuf in July 2009.
He and the surviving followers went underground after Yusuf's death, only to make a dramatic comeback and launch a violent uprising in 2010 which spread to other places in the North, including Abuja.
Shekau is believed to be born in Shekau village of Yobe State, though a Senate committee report quoted Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima in June as saying that he hailed from Niger Republic.
There is no certainty as to his age, as some say he is 36 while others say he may be 44.
Boko Haram has been banned by the Federal Government, and the JTF in November announced a reward of N50 million to anyone who provides information that could lead to Shekau's capture.
The United States has also declared Shekau a wanted terrorist with a ransom of $7 million on his head.
JTF placed a reward of N25 million each on the heads of four other Boko Haram Shura council members. They include Habibu Yusuf (AKA Asalafi), Khalid Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Mohammed Zangina.
Momodu Bama, reported to be Shekau's second in command, was killed along with his father Abatcha Flatari earlier in the month, JTF said last week.