By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
There are discordant tunes over the rumoured death of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram, during a fierce battle when members of an armed group suspected to be Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) invaded Sambisa forest last Wednesday 19th May 2021.
Sambisa forest shares border with parts of Konduga, Bama, Gwoza Askira Uba, Hawul, Kaga and Biu Local Government Areas in Borno, with some parts of Gujba, Buni Yadi, Goniri in Yobe and Madagali in Adamawa state.
Although, military authorities who are directly involved in the fight against terrorism are yet to issue official statement on the rumoured death of the terrorist leader in Nigeria, sources said, hundreds of ISWAP fighters invaded Sambisa with heavy gun trucks during the week hunting for Shekau who was the factional leader of Boko Haram.
It was also revealed that Shekau was not directly killed by ISWAP, the splinter rival group, but blew up himself when ISWAP attempted to capture him (Shekau) alive, during a gun duel.
According to a security report obtained by Saturday Vanguard, “unconfirmed source reported that Abubakar shekau was dethroned and killed by ISWAP and they have taken over the entire Sambisa forest. ISWAP is more equipped and better funded than Boko Haram. So, their mode of operation will change, and there is likely going to be frequent attacks around Konduga, Bama, Gwoza, Biu Local Government Areas and part of Adamawa. All humanitarian groups around the axis should be security conscious and be very vigilant.”
It was learnt that a fierce battle that lasted several days between the two factions led to the death of dozens of commanders and hundreds of foot soldiers from both sides, with multiple sources saying Shekau has killed himself or fatally injured himself to the extent that he might not survive
Many media platforms and social media had reported that ISWAP fighters armed with sophisticated weapons had penetrated Sambisa forest from different fronts and surrounded the place Shekau used as a safe sanctuary for years.
They reportedly killed many of his fighters and forced him to surrender.
Signal from security sources indicated that when Shekau discovered that it was the end of the road for him, and ISWAP fighters had directed him to relinquish his position as the grand amir and successor to the founder of the group Mohammed Yusuf, he opted for suicide by detonating the explosives he strapped to his body.
However, the AFP news agency reported that when Shekau reached the point of no return as he was surrounded by ISWAP fighters, he shot himself in the chest, fell on the ground while bleeding profusely but was whisked away to an unknown destination by some of his surviving loyal fighters.
Impeccable sources revealed that most of the fighters that fought for the defeat of Shekau were aged between 12 and 30 years.
“They are actually children of some ISWAP members killed over time,” one of the sources said.
According to him, “Others are youths sourced during raids on multiple islands around the Lake Chad.
The ISWAP carefully selected the youths. It was therefore much easier for recruitment as some of the youths willingly joined the group and others were forcefully conscripted. Some of them were born during the wartime and others were very young when their parents joined the group around 2002.
After their parents died because of illness or confrontation with Nigerian troops, the children naturally took over and when the group split into two in 2016, those that moved on their own or forcefully taken to the shores of Lake Chad under the umbrella of ISWAP had an upper hand in terms of training because they were taken to Libya for training in guerrilla warfare and other purposes. Others were sent to Syria and Somalia.
They were taken to many countries abroad for training. However, those that came back especially between March and April this year took active part in confronting Shekau in the last few days. They launched a serious offensive alongside other top commanders and fighters already on ground and they succeeded in taking over,” he said.
Another credible source said some of the 300 youths were trained as “medical doctors, paramedics, engineers, IT specialists, bomb specialists and mechanics.”
He added that among them were women “who serve as nurses or cooks while others have gun-handling skills, meaning they can partake in combat operations.”
He said after their return from abroad, they were camped at a village called Shuwaram in Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno State.
Another source said ahead of the invasion of Sambisa by the factional group, one of the top commanders of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and his lieutenants had visited the shores of the Lake Chad in company of ISWAP leader Goni Mustafa.
“Members of the entourage were seen on two boats with ISIS flag. Some of those in the entourage were light-skinned people possibly from Libya or Syria. It was only Mustafa that was black. They first visited Marte before they proceeded to Sabon Tumbu. They also visited Kirta, Kusuma and Kwallaram where they held meetings with commanders and other fighters,” the source said.
The source added that after the strategy meeting, the visiting terrorists left and since then, the ISWAP fighters started mobilising ahead of launching attacks on Sambisa Forest. “Some of them gathered at Kurnuwa, Kayuwa and Tumbin Jaki before they launched the offensive.
They had RPGs, GPMGs and AA guns on some vehicles,” he said, adding that the attackers also moved their “vulnerable women and children” from the Marte area to some locations around Kukawa.
Another source said before they aimed at Sambisa forest, the ISWAP fighters were responsible for the recent attacks in Damasak, Marte, Mainok, Dikwa and Maiduguri towns in Borno as well as in Geidam in Yobe State.
“They did not target civilians in most of their attacks; rather, they launched attacks against constituted authorities including security forces.
The group handpicked and killed people perceived as enemies such as members of a volunteer security group, CJTF.
“On the other side, Shekau and his followers operated from the southern parts of Borno State, mostly around the Mandara Mountains, Sambisa National Park and the Alagarno forest.
The group had carried out several deadly attacks on its targets including civilians. Shekau was strict on his followers and did not tolerate rebellious behaviour. He had killed several of his renegade commanders and that was why many of those alive ditched him,” he said.
It was further revealed that before the ISWAP fighters moved en masse to Sambisa, military operatives had launched several attacks on their hideouts in the northern parts of Borno State while air raids continued unabated.
“The military had sustained onslaught against the group which has its hideouts in the semi-arid landscape with sparse vegetation. Their enclaves are being decimated and with time they will have no hiding place,” he said.
A source said the group allegedly resolved to dislodge Shekau with the intent of relocating to Sambisa and the mountainous areas to evade air attacks by the military jets. “It was not difficult for the group to locate and launch an attack on the Shekau-led base in Sambisa.
There was fierce confrontation before Shekau succumbed and agreed to negotiate with ISWAP commanders. It was during the meeting that an explosion occurred and it was not clear whether or not Shekau was among those killed in the scene,” the source said. He said it was likely that Shekau had survived the offensive and fled to another hideout. “He had survived several attacks in which he was proclaimed dead,” he said.
The source said some of the followers of Shekau who were forced to flee the violent confrontation had sought refuge in different locations in the forest and were ready to pay “deep allegiance” to anybody declared as overall leader.
Now the fear of ISWAP is the beginning of wisdom, as the splinter group appears to be more dangerous by increasing spate of abduction/kidnapping of innocent civilians as well as killing of security forces in their formations being witnessed recently.
According to Mohammed Bashir, a veteran Journalist who wrote on his social media page, “this is the right time for the Nigerian security forces to put an end to insurgency in Nigeria by going all out to get rid of the insurgents. I heard that they are monitoring the veracity of the claim about the destruction of Shekau’s forces of evil by their rivals of the ISWAP fighters.
There is no time for complacency or time wasting because the opportunity has arisen to capitalise on the weaknesses of the insurgents by launching all out attack on all their formations. It is either now or never because it is very clear that both evil parties are injured, lost equipment and machinery to withstand any assault which clearly makes them vulnerable.
If the army does not exploit this vulnerability and bring this pogrom to an end there is no reason for us to believe that they have the determination to see to the end of the insurgents. We are waiting to see how the security forces take advantage of this situation,” he stated.