Abubakar Shekau, the fundamentalist warlord who turned Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect into a jihadist army whose war with the Nigerian state has left tens of thousands dead across four nations, has died, according to officials, mediators, phone calls intercepted by a West African spy agency and internal intelligence memos seen by The Wall Street Journal.
His death, which Nigeria’s military has erroneously reported at least three times before, was confirmed by five Nigerian officials who detailed how he detonated a suicide vest during a confrontation with rival insurgents to avoid being taken alive.
It removes one the world’s most brutal and effective terrorists, who plunged four nations, including Africa’s most populous, into a religious war. Globally, he was best known for kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok on the night before their final exams, an abduction that sparked the world-wide social-media movement #BringBackOurGirls.
There was no official confirmation from Nigeria’s government, Boko Haram or the media arm of Islamic State. The Journal was able to review transcripts of geolocated, intercepted calls between insurgents discussing his suicide, alongside an audio message from a longtime mediator between Shekau and the government reporting him dead.
Popular stories from WSJ.com: