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Nigeria claims Boko Haram leader dead

| Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, 8:06 p.m.
A screengrab from a video released by Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram  is of a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the leader of extremist group Boko Haram.
AFP/Getty Images
A screengrab from a video released by Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is of a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, the leader of extremist group Boko Haram.

ABUJA — Nigeria's military on Wednesday claimed for the first time that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was dead, as it said troops had killed a lookalike who had been posing as the militant commander.

Defense spokesman Chris Olukolade said in Abuja that a heavily bearded Islamist fighter identified as Mohammed Bashir died during fighting in the town of Konduga, in Borno state.

Bashir, who was said to have had several aliases, had “been acting or posing on videos as the deceased Abubakar Shekau, the eccentric character known as leader of the group,” he added.

The announcement is the first time the military has said publicly that Shekau was dead after two previous claims by security sources that he had died in July 2009 and in late June 2013.

The military did not, however, say how or when Shekau died.

“We are aware of the reports, but can't confirm anything at this time,” a State Department official said.

Earlier this year, the spokeswoman for the country's secret police, Marilyn Ogar, said “the original Shekau is dead” and that the person appearing in numerous videos was an imposter.

Olukolade said on Wednesday that the actual identity of Boko Haram's leader was not relevant. The name “Shekau” had become a “brand name for the terrorists,” he said.

“The Nigerian military remains resolute to serve justice to anyone who assumes that designation or title, as well as all the terrorists that seek to violate the freedom and territory of Nigeria,” he added.

The United States last year put up a $7 million reward for Shekau's capture as part of its Rewards for Justice program and designated him a “global terrorist.”

There has long been speculation in Nigeria and beyond about whether he was actually still alive.

It has been claimed that he died in 2003, and his name has since been used by at least two others.

They include Boko Haram members called Abdullahi Damasak, who was succeeded on his death by a Mustapha Chad, according to sources close to the group.

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