Nigeria says Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau leader 'may be dead'
Military reveals Boko Haram boss was killed in clash with soldiers, but video contradicts claim
The leader of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, branded a "global terrorist" by the United States, may have died following a clash with soldiers, Nigeria's army said.
Intelligence reports "revealed that Abubakar Shekau, the most dreaded and wanted Boko Haram terrorists' leader, may have died", a statement said on Monday.
It was "greatly believed" that he might have died between "July 25 to August 3", the statement said.
There was no independent confirmation of the claim, and previous reports of Shekau's death have turned out to be false.
According to the statement, Shekau was shot on June 30 during a clash with troops at a Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria and then taken across the border into Cameroon.
The army statement was contradictory, saying at one point that Shekau had been "mortally wounded" and "never recovered" after treatment received in Cameroon.
Shekau had been considered the leader of the main Islamist extremist faction of Boko Haram. The group's insurgency has left at least 3,600 people dead since 2009, including killings by the security forces, who have been accused of major abuses.
Nigeria's military began a sweeping offensive in the northeast in May aiming to end the insurgency. It has often exaggerated claims related to the drive.
National defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade seemed to distance himself from the army statement, saying security forces were still seeking conclusive evidence of Shekau's death.
"We are yet to get confirmation on that," he said. "We are talking to our troops in the field."
Dr Abdullahi Bawa Wase, a security analyst and rapporteur at the UN Department for Safety and Security, expressed doubts over the report, saying it could be a "mirage".
"They should have gone as far as locating where Shekau was buried, exhumed the body, conducted an autopsy and DNA tests to confirm that," he said. "It would be laughable to make such claims without going ahead to test its veracity."
A US embassy spokeswoman said she did not yet have any information on the claim and was not able to comment.
The United States in March put a US$7 million bounty on Shekau's head.
Shekau often sent out video messages from unknown locations. In a video message seen on August 12, a man who appeared to be Shekau insisted that he was in good health and referred to attacks in early August. The military statement said that the video was a fake.
"The recent video ... 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 statement said.
Boko Haram has claimed to be fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in Africa's most populous nation, though the group is believed to have a number of factions with varying aims.
Nigeria's 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Christian south and mostly Muslim north.