Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, committed suicide in a fight against rival jihadist fighters, reports AFP.
In an audio recording received by the news agency, the Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP), a rival militant group said Shekau was killed by detonating explosives on himself after a battle between the two groups.
The confirmation comes on Sunday, two weeks after reports surfaced that Shekau had died.
His death marks a major shift in Nigeria’s 12-year jihadist insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people and displaced some two million in the northeast.
Boko Haram has yet to officially comment on the death of its leader, while the Nigerian military said it was investigating the claim.
“Shekau preferred being humiliated in the afterlife to being humiliated on Earth. He killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive, ”said a voice similar to that of ISWAP leader Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, speaking in the Kanuri language.
The audio, which was not dated, was given to AFP by the same source that transmitted previous messages from the group.
“From there he withdrew and escaped, ran and wandered in the bushes for five days. However, the fighters continued to search and hunt him before they could locate him, ”said the voice.
After finding him in the bush, ISWAP fighters urged him and his followers to repent, the voice added, but Shekau refused and committed suicide.
“We are very happy,” said the voice, describing Shekau as “the great troublemaker, persecutor and destructive leader of the nation.”
ISWAP parted ways with Boko Haram in 2016, objecting to Shekau’s indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilians and the use of female suicide bombers.
“This was someone who committed unimaginable terrorism and atrocities. How long has he led people astray? How many times has he destroyed and abused people? “said the voice.
In the past two years, ISWAP emerged as the most dominant force in the region, carrying out large-scale attacks against the Nigerian military.
Now that the group seeks to absorb the fighters and Shekau territory, the Nigerian military is potentially facing a more unified jihadist force, analysts say.
But ISWAP may also find it difficult to control or persuade Boko Haram factions loyal to Shekau outside of Sambisa, especially in the border areas.
“It may not be over yet,” said a security source. “ISWAP will have to subdue or convince these camps to join (them) in its fold to fully consolidate its control.”
Jihadist infighting can present opportunities for the Nigerian military to seize.
But if ISWAP absorbed some of Shekau’s men and weapons, it might be in a position to cut roads to and from Borno state capital Maiduguri, analysts said.