Nigeria’s air force said it had killed a number of senior Boko Haram fighters and possibly their overall leader ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in the north African country for talks on tackling the militants.
“Their leader, Abubakar Shekau, is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders,” military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said.
Kerry did not make a direct reference to the air raid on his arrival yesterday, but his administration has paid close attention to the fight against a militant group that has declared allegiance to Islamic State and destabilised the whole region by attacking Nigeria’s neighbours.
On his first stop in the northern city of Sokoto, the top US diplomat said the struggle against Boko Haram would only succeed if Nigeria tackled the reasons why people joined militant groups.
“It is understandable that in the wake of terrorist activity some are tempted to crack down on anyone who could theoretically pose some sort of threat. But extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear,” he said.
Nigeria has been pushing the US to sell it aircraft to take on Boko Haram – a group that emerged in northeast Borno region seven years ago.
The militants have killed an estimated 15000 people in their fight to set up an Islamist state.
Under Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, the US blocked arms sales and ended training of Nigerian troops. But the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has argued its rights record has improved significantly enough to lift the blockade.
In May US officials said that Washington wanted to sell up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria in recognition of Buhari’s reform of the country’s army, but the US Congress needs to approve the deal.
There was no immediate reaction from Boko Haram. The military has reported the death of Shekau in the past, only to have a man purporting to be him appear later, making video statements.