Abubakar Shekau, leader of Nigerian Jihadist group Boko Haram, has been reported dead by rival militia group ISWAP (The Islamic State West African Province). ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was heard saying in an audio recording that Shekau was killed after a battle between the two groups. Around 18 May, Shekau was pursued by ISWAP soldiers and detonated an explosive that was strapped to himself. Abubakar Shekau was presumed dead numerous times in the past 12 years, only to reappear in videos denouncing the allegations. The audio recording was first heard by local media and its contents have been verified by other sources. A Nigerian government official has shared an intelligence report which confirms Shekau’s death, and the sentiment has been echoed by other Boko Haram researchers and analysts. In 2016, a group of fighters led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi splintered from Boko Haram and were identified as ISWAP. The two rival Islamic extremist groups have clashed over ideological differences ever since, wreaking havoc on the civilian population in Nigeria and some neighbouring countries. If Abubakar Shekau is actually dead, there is some disagreement among experts regarding the aftermath of such a situation. Many expect ISWAP, who has been trying for years to recruit from Shekau’s network, to inherit the Boko Haram fighters. It is expected that many militants will join ISWAP out of necessity – central leadership and financial assistance are needed and that can only be found in another established organisation. Other security experts, including Dickson Osajie, believe that one hundred per cent defection cannot be guaranteed. “The fighters who have pledged allegiance to Shekau would want to regroup and take revenge for Shekau’s death, causing more crisis,” he said. In either case, the violence is expected to continue, and the Nigerian Military needs to establish an effective strategy to combat terrorism and its funding in the region. 

From a Christian perspective, the rivalry between the Jihadist groups may be seen as a solution, as it may lead to their mutual destruction.  However, this is not the Lord’s heart towards ‘fallen man’. He does not desire that any perish, but for everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). The Church has a role to play in better understanding key aspects of radical Islamic thinking in order to pray more effectively for Islamic extremists. Ultimately, the driving force behind the choice to follow a life of jihad is fear. There is a deep-seated dread of ‘missing’ God and not going to heaven. Most jihadists demonstrate a zeal in obeying these teachings and following this way of life – and death. It is this zeal that blinds them. According to radical Islamic interpretation, revenge is mandated as a response for wrongdoing; to such an extent that jihadists believe they will receive punishment from their god if they do not obey the call to retaliate. This spirit of retribution maintains a cycle of killing in these communities. Nabeel Qureshi, a Pakistani-American Christian apologist, wrote: “We need to remember…thirteen books of the New Testament come to us from the hand of Paul. Paul was someone who murdered Christians. And if it hadn’t been for him, we wouldn’t have 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. We wouldn’t have Romans, the greatest treatise on theology that I’ve seen. That was all at the hands of what some people call a terrorist.” If the Lord could work in Saul’s heart, then He is able to work in the heart of extremists. The Church needs to continue to pray with compassion that they will be freed from bondage to the spirits of fear and revenge, and find truth in the Lord. 

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For Nigeria and its neighbours, to effectively address the terrorist threat in the Sahel region
  • For the protection of civilians who are caught up in the perpetual cycle of extremist violence 
  • For the Lord to reveal Himself to these jihadists as the way, the truth, and the life, and through this revelation to set them free


File photo: REUTERS/Zanah Mustapha