Boko Haram commanders killed in air strike, says Nigeria

Islamist group’s leader Abubakar Shekau reported wounded as John Kerry arrives

The Nigerian air force claims to have killed several Boko Haram commanders and seriously wounded its leader, Abubakar Shekau, in an "unprecedented and spectacular air raid".

The announcement came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in Nigeria and pledged his country's support in fighting the extremist group, which has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced millions.

Sani Usman, an army spokesman, said the strike was launched "while the terrorists were performing Friday rituals" in a village in the Sambisa forest. The forest has been Boko Haram's chief hideout for several years, and is believed to be where it is keeping a group of girls kidnapped from a dormitory in Chibok in 2014, an incident that sparked outrage worldwide.

Shekau, who has recently been at the centre of a power struggle within Boko Haram, was “believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders”, Mr Usman said, without giving further details. The account leaves unanswered questions of how the military knew the wounds were fatal, and how it could be so specific about a shoulder injury when the attack came from the air.


In a speech in the northwestern city of Sokoto, Mr Kerry did not mention Shekau or the military commanders supposedly killed, and cautioned against the military cracking down on “everyone and anyone” in the wake of militant attacks.

Boko Haram transforms “the most vulnerable among us into killers”, Mr Kerry said, describing how in its quest to destroy knowledge, the group destroys schools, burns books, murders teachers and kidnaps students.

“Make no mistake, we do not have to be prisoners of these extremists, they can be eliminated,” Mr Kerry said. “We have to strike at the root of violent extremism. Nations need to do more than just denounce dead-end ideologies. There are far too many who join the ranks of these organisations because they have trouble finding meaning in their lives.”

Blocked US arms

Under Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan, the US blocked arms sales and withdrew training of its forces, largely because of corruption and human rights abuses by the military. However since May this year, Washington has been poised to sell the west African country 12 light attack aircraft, a deal that is awaiting approval in Congress.

Mr Kerry praised the efforts of Nigeria's armed forces, which have undergone reform under the new president, Muhammadu Buhari, who swept to power last year on a ticket to tackle endemic corruption. "There's no question in recent months that important progress has been made. Nigeria and its neighbours are systemically degrading Boko Haram's capabilities," Mr Kerry said.

Tuesday's announcement by the air force is at least the fourth time that Shekau has been declared killed. In 2009 Nigerian security forces said they had killed him along with the group's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, and 1,000 other members of Boko Haram. In September 2014 both the Nigerian army and the Cameroonian army claimed to have killed him. That October, Shekau appeared in a video mocking these claims.

Shekau appeared to have weathered an attack of a different sort in recent weeks: to his authority.

Islamic State, to which Boko Haram pledged allegiance last year, declared he was no longer the leader of their west African franchise, putting a former spokesman in his place. According to analysts, Isis had grown weary of Shekau’s attacks on mosques and Muslim markets. Shekau, however, apparently rejected his dismissal in an audio message.

Later, a video believed to have come from him depicted about 50 of the kidnapped girls, one of whom was made to speak to the camera, saying several of them had been killed in military air strikes and asking the government to negotiate their release.

Guardian service