Boko Haram leader blows himself up after rivals close in

The shadowy leader of the Islamist group Boko Haram, who became notorious for kidnapping hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls, has died.

Abubakar Shekau blew himself up rather than surrender when his hideout in northeast Nigeria was stormed by fighters from the rival Islamic State West African Province (Iswap). News of his death came in an audio account by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the leader of Iswap, a splinter group that was targeting Boko Haram’s stronghold in Borno State. He said his fighters had been given orders by Islamic State leaders to hunt down Shekau and they had battled Boko Haram insurgents until Shekau fled. He was chased and given the chance to surrender.

Shekau preferred to be humiliated in the afterlife than getting humiliated on Earth, and he killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive, Barnawi said. Details of the death emerged a fortnight after rumours began swirling that the jihadist had been mortally wounded.

The loss of the warlord, who was thought to have been in his late forties, is likely to see Iswap absorb hundreds of Boko Haram fighters, presenting a considerable challenge for Nigeria beleaguered armed forces. What a Shekau death means is the Islamic State is set to come out as the dominant player in the other side of the conflict, which means more problems for the military, Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst at SBM Intelligence in Lagos, said.

From 2009 until his death, Shekau drove the transformation of Boko Haram, which translates to Western education is forbidden, from being an underground Islamic sect to a deadly terrorist movement.

Huge swathes of Nigeria barren northeast fell under the insurgents control and attacks spilled over into neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad. More than 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed and some three million forced from their homes.

In 2014 Shekau made global headlines for kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, which triggered the viral BringBackOurGirls campaign that drew support from Michelle Obama and others.

Some girls escaped and were rescued, others released for more than £3 million in ransom. More than 100 of those girls have never been heard from, and are presumed either dead or forcibly married to jihadists.
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