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Fact check: Did the U.S. reimpose $7m bounty on Boko Haram's Shekau?

Fact check: Did the U.S. reimpose $7m bounty on Boko Haram's Shekau?


The Boko Haram crisis is in its 11th year running and still the Nigerian government and others in the Lake Chad region continue to suffer attacks by the group on members of the security forces and on civilians.

Security experts have pointed out the factions that have resulted from disagreements within the top brass leading to the creation of a major breakaway in the form of Islamic State in West African Province, ISWAP.

ISWAP, reportedly led by Abu Mus’ab al Barnawi is known to be the biggest bloc aside the ‘traditional’ Boko Haram sect, full name, Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da’awati wal-Jihad.

In mid-week, March 3, 2020; major Nigerian portals and blogs carried the news of a $7 million United States Department of State bounty on the head of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

The sole source of the news was via the verified French Twitter handle of the Department of State’s Rewards for Justice Program.

Even though the program has an English handle, the news of a bounty on Shekau was posted on the French handle in French and another version in Hausa – a widely spoken and written language in northern Nigeria and parts of Chad.

A third language was used which the reporter believe would be another of languages spoken in Nigeria’s north. All the notices came with WhatsApp and Telegram contacts.

But did the U.S. reimpose a bounty of seven years?

A Nigerian Boko Haram expert, academician and human rights lawyer, Bulama Bukarti, says the current notice is in reference to the 2013 bounty that the Department of State under John Kerry in the Obama administration imposed.

The particular notice issued in June 2013 preceded the formal designation of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, FTO, by the U.S. government. The group was classed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 on November 14, 2013.

The U.S. notice added that: “Boko Haram commander Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi, and Abubakar Adam Kambar were designated on June 21, 2012, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under section 1(b) of E.O. 13224.

“Since June 2013, the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program has advertised a reward offer of up to US $7 million for information leading to the location of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.”

Shekau has gone on to become perhaps the most elusive terrorist leader in Africa. The Nigerian Army has in the past reported his death, at another time that he had been fatally injured, escaped from the group’s stronghold in Sambisa forest.

But journalists closely covering the insurgency and major media houses have often published videos of Shekau threatening to unleash violence if Nigerians do not repent and follow the true teaching of Islam.

In one of his most recent videos, he is heard threatening President Muhammadu Buhari, the army and a the Minister of Communications and Digital Technology, Ali Isa Pantami; who is a leading Islamic cleric in the country.

The privately-run Sahara Reporters news website in their story on the 2013 imposition of a bounty gave details of Shekau as follows:

  • Dates of Birth Used : 1965, 1969, 1975
  • Place of Birth : Yobe, Nigeria
  • Sex : Male
  • Height : Tall
  • Build : Slim
  • Complexion : Dark
  • Ethnicity : Kanuri
  • Languages : Arabic, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri
  • Aliases : Abu Bakr Skikwa, Imam Abu Bakr Shiku, Abu Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Muhammad Al Shakwi Al Muslimi Bishku, Abubakar Shakkau

Abubakar Shekau is the leader of Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da’awati wal-Jihad, more commonly known as Boko Haram. Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” is a Nigeria-based terrorist organization that seeks to overthrow the current Nigerian government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law, the report read in part.

Responding to the designation, Shekau mocked the U.S. and stressed that his life was in the hands of God and not any man. He has since gone on to threaten successive U.S. governments and even mocked President Donald Trump.

“We do not worship money,” he said in a video back in 2013. “You can’t in any way harm me,” after defending the killing of people which he stressed was not an ethnic but religious war.

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