Boko Haram leader dies after self-immolation in clashes with Islamic State in Nigeria

The leader was reportedly killed in a suspected ambush in northwestern Nigeria by the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), according to local media
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AP PHOTO/JOSSY OLA  -   A group of men identified by the Nigerian Police as Boko Haram fighters and extremist leaders in Nigeria

The leader of the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, is reportedly dead following clashes between the terrorist group and its rival faction, the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), the army has told local media.

The incident reportedly followed an ambush by ISWAP around Sambisa forest, where Boko Haram is said to be hiding in Borno state, according to the HumAngle website. ISWAP reportedly managed to enter the "Timbuktu triangle" where Shekau was wounded and abducted by the group along with several of his bodyguards.

A senior Nigerian army official told EFE that the clash between the two turned out to be "a tough fight between the two groups. As far as we know, the ISWAP fighters, who had overrun the Boko Haram stronghold in Sambisa forest, subdued Shekau and his men".

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PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Nigerian army convoy, Bama, Borno State

Following his abduction, Nigerian sources report that ISWAP allegedly forced the group's leader to swear allegiance to the Islamic State of West Africa at a meeting where negotiations were expected to take place, but Shekau reportedly responded by blowing himself up after secretly wearing a bomb waistcoat under his clothes. All those present were reportedly killed. It is not known at this stage whether senior ISWAP officials were among them.

Shekau has been the leader of Boko Haram since 2009, following the death of Mohamed Yusuf in police custody. Since he began his tenure, Shekau has carried out indiscriminate attacks on civilians and attacks on children. In this regard, the leader's death has been rumoured on up to four occasions between July 2009 and August 2015. A year later, the Nigerian Army reported that Shekau had been seriously wounded in a bombing, but the terrorist group released a month after the events a video of the leader in perfect health.

Clashes between ISWAP and Boko Haram have been going on repeatedly for years, but over the past few months hostilities between the two had become more aggressive and continuous. Since the separation of ISWAP from Boko Haram five years ago, dozens of ISWAP fighters have been killed in battles against Boko Haram. However, ISWAP managed to survive by defeating several Boko Haram sub-groups and absorbing others.

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ACLED- Breakdown of violent incidents between Boko Haram (Shekau's faction) versus ISWAP (Barnawi's faction)

Boko Haram has managed to control large parts of Nigeria and the group attempted to create a kind of caliphate in parts of Borno. However, a joint military offensive by Nigerian, Cameroonian and Chadian troops succeeded in wresting these areas from them and returning them to intermittent tranquillity. According to the UN, more than 35,000 people have been killed by the terrorist group and nearly two million people have been displaced by the group's offensives against the population. 

According to a study by the International Crisis Group, "occasional clashes still occur, particularly when Shekau assailants seek to rob and abduct civilians in ISWAP-controlled areas on the Nigerian shores of Lake Chad, as well as in the Konduga local government area of Nigeria, and ISWAP units attempt to defend against them".

The ISWAP split came about due to ongoing clashes and disagreements over Boko Haram's excessive use of force on takfir (infidel) designations after carrying out multiple killings and massacres against them. From the time of its split, ISWAP became affiliated with the Islamic State and has been responsible for the country's increasing violence in the north, as well as fuelling confrontations between the Boko Haram.

Boko Haram has been the group that has carried out the most attacks in the Sahel region, being responsible for more than 40 per cent of them. ISWAP, on the other hand, is third with around 20 per cent of attacks. However, not all of them have been committed around Lake Chad. Globally, they rank fourth and fifth respectively.