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Rebel leader probably dead, Nigeria says

According to the Nigerian military, Abubakar Shekau, head of Boko Haram, was probably killed during fighting in recent weeks.

AFP PHOTO/Boko Haram

According to the Nigerian military, Abubakar Shekau, head of Boko Haram, was probably killed during fighting in recent weeks.

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Nigeria’s military says the leader of the militant Boko Haram group probably died from wounds sustained in a gun battle with security forces, a development that could set back its violent campaign to establish an Islamic state in Africa’s largest oil producer.

Abubakar Shekau was injured on June 30 in a clash at Sambisa Forest in northeastern Nigeria, Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military task force fighting the Islamists, said in a statement Monday, citing intelligence reports. He provided no evidence to back up the claim.

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‘‘Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon, for treatment,’’ Musa said. ‘‘Shekau might have died between July 25 and Aug. 3.’’

Boko Haram, whose name means ‘‘Western education is a sin’’ in the Hausa language, has carried out attacks across Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north and the capital, Abuja, killing thousands of people since 2009. Nigeria’s more than 160 million people are roughly equally split between Christians, predominant in the south, and Muslims.

It was the second time in a week that defense officials announced the death of a senior Boko Haram commander. On Aug. 14, Nigeria’s Defense Ministry said the group’s second in command, Momodu Bama, was killed in clashes with security forces. Bama’s death ‘‘has been confirmed by other arrested terrorists,’’ ministry spokesman Chris Olukolade said. That claim has not been verified independently.

‘‘The media should take the claim with a pinch of salt until the death is independently confirmed,’’ Sebastian Spio- Garbrah, managing director of DaMina Advisors, frontier-market analysts, said Tuesday.

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