Abubakar Shekau

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Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau, Rewards for Justice.jpg
Shekau announcing Boko Haram's abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls, video from May 2014.
Born1965, 1969 or 1975[1]
Shekau, Tarmuwa, Yobe State, Nigeria
Died19 May 2021 (aged 46–56)
Sambisa Forest, Nigeria
AllegianceBoko Haram (2002–2021)
 Islamic State (fully 2015–2016; loosely from 2016)
Years of service2002–2021
Battles/warsBoko Haram insurgency

Abu Mohammed Abubakar al-Sheikawi (also known by the alias Darul Akeem wa Zamunda Tawheed, or Darul Tawheed; "the abode of monotheism"; born 1965, 1969 or 1975[1] – 19 May 2021) was a Kanuri terrorist who was the leader of Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamist militant group.[2][3] He served as deputy leader to the group's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, until Yusuf was executed in 2009.

Nigerian authorities believed that Shekau was killed in 2009 during clashes between security forces and Boko Haram until July 2010, when Shekau appeared in a video claiming leadership of the group.[3] He has subsequently been regularly reported dead and was thought to use doubles.[4][5][6] In March 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Shekau was a Salafi, until 2016, when he ended his relation to ISIL.[7]

On 21 May 2021, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, backed by recent reports by Nigerian officials, stated that Shekau killed himself by detonating a suicide vest.[8] Shekau's rival Abu Musab al-Barnawi later also stated that Shekau had killed himself.[9] In June 2021, his death was confirmed by his surviving loyalists.[10]


Early years[edit]

Shekau was born in Shekau town, in Tarmuwa local government, Yobe State;[11] his exact date of birth is unknown but is said to be between 1965 and 1975. Shekau was an ethnic Kanuri, and also spoke Hausa, Fulani, Arabic, and English. He was said to have had a photographic memory.[12][13] In 1990 he moved to the Mafoni area in Maiduguri and studied under a traditional cleric before entering the Borno College of Legal and Islamic Studies (now called Mohammed Goni College of Legal and Islamic Studies). Shekau left the college for ideological reasons and without earning a degree.[14] He later met Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Jamaat Ahlus Sunnah li Dawah wal Jihad, and became one of his deputies. Shekau was appointed the leader of the group in July 2009, after the death of Yusuf in the 2009 Boko Haram uprising. Shekau survived being shot in the leg during the 2009 attempt on his life by Nigerian security forces.[3] He was married to one of Muhammad Yusuf's four widows.[15] His nickname was “Darul Tawheed”, which translates as "specialist in tawheed", the Islamic concept of oneness of Allah.[15]

Leader of Boko Haram[edit]

Shekau's leadership did not go unchallenged. He received a letter from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb giving him advice but he did not heed it.[citation needed] As a result of his erratic leadership, in 2012 a faction of the group broke off to form Jamaat Ansar al-Muslimin fi Bilād as-Sudn (Ansaru). This faction included his military commander Abu Muhammad al-Bauchawi, and religious advisor Sheikh Abu Osama al-Ansari Muhammad Awal al-Gombawi. Despite this, many soldiers and commanders stayed with Shekau, including military commanders Abu Sa'ad al-Bamawi and Muhammad Salafi. With his group mostly intact, Shekau engaged in conflict with Ansaru, killing their leader Abu Osama al-Ansari. As a result of this, and other arrests of Ansaru leaders by the Nigerian government, Ansaru did not pose a further threat to Shekau's leadership of the jihadi movement in Nigeria, and the group became defunct by 2015.

Shekau's fellow jihadist fighters were undisciplined and abused the populations they encountered, resulting in the establishment of civilian militias such as the Civilian Joint Task Force to fight them. Shekau was also thought to have killed his own religious advisors, including Sheikh Abd al-Malek al-Ansari al-Kadunawi and Abu al-Abbas al-Bankiwani.[16]

In June 2012, the United States Department of State designated Shekau as a terrorist and effectively froze his assets in the United States.[17] Since June 2013,[18] the Department has had a standing reward of US$7 million for information leading to Shekau's capture through its Rewards for Justice program.[19] In addition, the Nigerian army has offered a 50 million reward (approximately US$300,000) for Shekau.[20]

In videos Shekau posted online, he boasted often about his invincibility; mocked various armies; and stated that he "cannot be stopped" and "cannot die except by the will of Allah". He has also boasted of being in possession of armoured tanks and other combat vehicles.[21] His online videos frequently depict anti-American rhetoric, and he has made multiple threats to attack the U.S.[22]

In one prominent incident, he took credit for the kidnapping of over 200 school girls in April 2014.[23] Shekau also announced that the kidnapped girls have been converted to Islam.[24] He has claimed to be waging a jihad against Christianity.[25]

With the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during 2014 and 2015, Shekau faced pressure from his commanders and soldiers to pledge his allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A history of the group says that Shekau "was compelled to give allegiance, and that was through a coming together of the military commanders, and after he became convinced that the matter was about to go out of his hand, and that his throne would be shaken and emptied of him if he did not give allegiance". In August 2016, ISIL appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the leader of the group in place of Shekau.[26] Shekau refused to recognise Barnawi's authority and split off part of the group under its original name of Jamaat Ahlus Sunnah li Dawah wal Jihad, while Barnawi led the "Islamic State's West Africa Province" (ISWAP).[27] While Shekau led his group, he only had 1,500 soldiers, whereas Barnawi had 3,500.[28] Shekau has been widely denounced as following the ideology of the Khawarij by the Islamic State and West Africa province in Nigeria.

Following the split, many clashes occurred between Shekau and Barnawi's forces over the next years.[29][9] Regardless, Shekau never fully renounced his allegiance to the Islamic State, instead framing the rebel infighting as being solely attributable to his local rivals.[30]

Reports of death[edit]

Shekau was reported killed in 2009 but reappeared as the group leader less than a year later.[31] The Nigerian army in mid-August 2013 stated that he was fatally wounded when soldiers raided a base of Boko Haram in Sambisa forest and had died between 25 July and 3 August.[32] However, a video in September 2013 was released in which a man purported to be Shekau claimed he had not been killed.[33] The Nigerian army also stated to have killed him during the 2014 Battle of Kodunga that lasted from 12 to 14 September.[34] The Cameroonian military posted a photo[35] and also claimed that their forces killed Shekau in September 2014.[36][37][38] In response to these reports, security analyst Ryan Cummings commented, "Is this his fourth or fifth death? He dies more often than an iPhone battery."[35] In early October 2014, a video was obtained by AFP news agency that showed Shekau alive, in which he mocked the Nigerian military's allegations that he had been killed.[39][40]

Chadian President Idriss Déby claimed in mid-August 2015 that Shekau had been replaced by Mahamat Daoud without exactly specifying his fate.[41] An audio message attributed to Shekau was released a few days later, in which he purportedly stated that he had neither been killed nor ousted as chief of the group.[42]

Shekau was reported to have been "fatally wounded" during an airstrike in Taye village on 19 August 2016 by Nigerian Air Force which also killed some senior leaders of Boko Haram.[43][44] On 25 September, a video of a man purported to be Shekau was released on YouTube, in which he claimed that he was alive and in good health.[45]

On 27 June 2017, Shekau released a video in which he claimed responsibility for the abduction of Nigerian policewomen and criticized the Nigerian government for claiming that Boko Haram had been defeated.[46] This video would seem to be further evidence of Shekau's continued survival. In February 2020, Shekau released a video threatening the minister of information and digital economy, Isa Ali Pantami, and making reference to what was done to Islamic scholar Ja'afar Mahmud Adam in Maiduguri when he preached against Boko Haram, Bulama Bukarti, explained why Boko Haram leader Shekau threatened the Minister in an interview with the BBC.[47]


In May 2021, fighting between ISWAP and Shekau's troops escalated. The former invaded Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram's traditional stronghold, and encircled Shekau on 19 May.[29] ISWAP attempted to convince Shekau to surrender and acknowledged Barnawi's authority, but the Boko Haram leader refused. In the middle of the negotiations, Shekau reportedly used a suicide vest to kill himself as well as a senior ISWAP frontline commander who was talking to him at the time.[48][49] ISWAP was surprised by this "dramatic" action.[48]

In the next weeks, several sources gradually issued confirmations of his death.[48][49][50] ISWAP declared Shekau dead in early June 2021, with al-Barnawi condemning him as "someone who committed unimaginable terrorism".[9] In mid June, Shekau's loyalists under Bakura Sahalaba confirmed his death, but also declared that they would continue to fight against ISWAP.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Rewards for Justice - Wanted". www.rewardsforjustice.net. Archived from the original on 7 July 2021. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  2. ^ Brock, Joe (12 January 2012). "Nigeria sect leader defends killings in video". Reuters Africa. Thomson Reuters. Archived from the original on 15 January 2012. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Jacinto, Leela (13 January 2012). "The Boko Haram terror chief who came back from the dead". France 24. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  4. ^ "Boko Haram militant leader is dead, Nigerian military says". France 24. 25 September 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  5. ^ "Nigeria army claims death of Boko Haram leader". www.aa.com.tr. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  6. ^ Akinyelure, Didi (27 September 2016). "Dead or alive? The six lives of Boko Haram's leader". BBC News. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  7. ^ Collective Mobilisations in Africa / Mobilisations collectives en Afrique: Enough is Enough! / Ça suffit!. BRILL. 1 June 2015. p. 338. ISBN 9789004300002.
  8. ^ Hinshaw, Drew; Parkinson, Joe (21 May 2021). "Boko Haram Leader, Responsible for Chibok Schoolgirl Kidnappings, Dies". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 21 May 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Ahmad Salkida (5 June 2021). "ISWAP Confirms Shekau's Death, Says Its Fighters Were Following ISIS Orders". Humangle. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Abubakar Shekau's Boko Haram Faction Confirms Death Of Leader, Issues Fresh Threats". Sahara Reporters. 15 June 2021. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Abubakar Shekau: Boko Haram's radical leader". France 24. 6 June 2021. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  12. ^ "Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in profile". BBC News. 9 May 2014.
  13. ^ BBC: "Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in profile" 9 May 2014
  14. ^ "Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency" (PDF). Africa Report N°216. 3 April 2014. p. 19. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 September 2022. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Profile of Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau". BBC News. 22 June 2012.
  16. ^ Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi. "The Islamic State West Africa Province vs. Abu Bakr Shekau: Full Text, Translation and Analysis". Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  17. ^ "Boko Haram leaders are designated as terrorists by US". BBC News. 22 June 2012. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
  18. ^ "Rewards for Justice - First Reward Offers for Terrorists in West Africa". U.S. Department of State. 3 June 2013.
  19. ^ "Rewards for Justice profile". Rewardsforjustice.net. Archived from the original on 7 July 2021. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  20. ^ "Nigeria army offers $1.8 mln reward for Boko Haram leaders". Reuters. 24 November 2012.
  21. ^ "Boko Haram leader, believed dead, appears in new video". UPI. 24 September 2013.
  22. ^ Windrem, Robert (17 May 2014). "Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau: the Man Who Would Be Africa's Bin Laden". NBC News. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  23. ^ McCoy, Terrence (6 May 2014). "The man behind the Nigerian girls' kidnappings and his death-defying mystique". The Washington Post.
  24. ^ Boko Haram and the Future of Nigeria, by Dr. Jacques Neheriah Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
  25. ^ "Boko Haram Leader Pledges War Against Christians; Scoffs at Gays Saying Even Animals Know Better". Christianpost.com. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 6 June 2014.
  26. ^ "Boko Haram in Nigeria: Abu Musab al-Barnawi named as new leader". BBC News. 3 August 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  27. ^ "Boko Haram's Shekau vows to fight IS group rival for leadership". France 24. 9 August 2016. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  28. ^ Ryan, Browne (19 April 2018). "US warns of growing African terror threat". CNN. Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  29. ^ a b Zenn (2021), p. 1.
  30. ^ Murtala Abdullahi (26 May 2021). "Shekau's Last Message Throws Light On Links With Global Terror Groups, ISWAP Offensive". Humangle. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  31. ^ "Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in profile". BBC News. 9 May 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  32. ^ "Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria's Boko Haram 'may be dead'". BBC News. 19 August 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  33. ^ "Abubakar Shekau: Boko Haram chief 'shown alive' in video". BBC News. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  34. ^ "Nigerian Army confirms death of fake Abubakar Shekau". vanguardngr.com. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  35. ^ a b "Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau Reported Killed Again — This Time by Cameroon's Army". VICE News. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  36. ^ "L'armée camerounaise aurait tué le leader de Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau". African Manager. 21 September 2014. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  37. ^ "Boko Haram fighters 'surrender' as alleged chief killed". BBC News. 24 September 2014. Archived from the original on 25 September 2014. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  38. ^ "Military kills Abubakar Shekau 'again'". The Punch. Archived from the original on 27 September 2014. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  39. ^ "Boko Haram leader dismisses claims of his death in new video". Yahoo News. 2 October 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  40. ^ "Boko Haram video shows leader alive". BBC News. 2 October 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  41. ^ "Nigeria's Boko Haram militants 'have new leader'". BBC. 12 August 2015. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  42. ^ Tony Bakate (16 August 2015). "I'm alive, says Shekau in a new audio message". The Guardian Nigeria. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  43. ^ "Nigerian air force says kills top Boko Haram militants, leader believed wounded". Reuters. 23 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  44. ^ Abdulkareem Haruna (23 August 2016). "Nigerian military says Boko Haram leader, Shekau, wounded in deadly air strike". Premium Times. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  45. ^ "Man Claiming to be Boko Haram's Abubakar Shekau Surfaces in Video". Voice of America. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  46. ^ "Boko Haram Leader Releases Video Revealing Abduction Of Policewomen". UNCOVA. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  47. ^ "Why Boko Haram leader threaten Nigeria minister - Bulama Bukarti". BBC News Pidgin. 17 February 2020. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  48. ^ a b c Zenn (2021), p. 2.
  49. ^ a b Murtala Abdullahi; Kunle Adebajo (20 May 2021). "Boko Haram Strongman, Shekau, Dead As ISWAP Fighters Capture Sambisa Forest". Humangle. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  50. ^ Adeleke, Tunde (21 May 2021). "Shekau's last moment : How Boko Haram's leader was destroyed by ISWAP". Platinum Post News. Retrieved 23 May 2021.

Works cited[edit]

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