(New York, N.Y.) — The Nigerian Islamist terror group Boko Haram has confirmed the death of its longtime leader, Abubakar Shekau. The announcement followed reports from the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), a rival to Boko Haram, that Shekau had committed suicide after a battle between the two groups. In a purported audio statement ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi, Shekau allegedly detonated explosives and blew himself up to evade capture by ISWAP fighters. A senior cleric with Boko Haram’s Lake Chad branch verified Shekau’s death last week in a video and urged fighters to remain loyal to Boko Haram and escalate conflict with rival groups.
Abukar Shekau was designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. State Department in June 2012, and was an infamous extremist who bore responsibility for promulgating the ongoing bloody conflict in northeast Nigeria between Boko Haram and ISWAP. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS under Shekau in March 2015. On August 3, 2016, ISIS announced militant Abu Musab al-Barnawi had assumed leadership of Boko Haram. Later that day, Shekau released an audio statement denying ISIS’s claim, and referred to the announcement as a coup. Following the announcement, the group split into two factions—a Shekau-led Boko Haram and a Barnawi-headed ISWAP. Shekau never renounced his pledge to ISIS and in March 2017 began including ISIS logos in official Boko Haram videos.
On May 18, 2021, fighters from Boko Haram splinter group ISWAP surrounded Shekau in Nigeria’s Borno State. Shekau reportedly detonated a bomb to evade capture. On June 7, ISWAP released an audio recording confirming Shekau was killed in the May 18 blast. A Nigerian intelligence report, as well as Boko Haram researchers, also confirmed Shekau’s death. According to Barnawi, ISIS’s leadership ordered Shekau’s death.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s Boko Haram resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Abubakar Shekau resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Abu Musab al-Barnawi resource, please click here.
To read CEP’s Nigeria resource, please click here.