Abubakar Shekau: The face of terror: A ruthless leader with twisted ideology
By Saheed Ahmed
He is the face of terror. A ruthless leader with a twisted ideology. And
the sadistic architect of a campaign of mayhem and misery.
And yet, very little is known about Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko
He operates in the shadows, leaving his underlings to orchestrate his
repulsive mandates. He resurfaces every once in a while in videotaped
messages to mock the impotence of the Nigerian military. And he uses his
faith to recruit the impressionable and the disenfranchised to his cause.
He is a religious scholar Shekau was born in Shekau village that
borders Niger. He studied under a cleric and then attended Borno State
College of Legal and Islamic Studies for higher studies on
Islam. That's why he's also known as 'Darul Tawheed,' which
translates to an expert in monotheism, or the oneness of Allah.
Place of birth: Yobe State
He's a polyglot
He speaks several languages fluently: Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and Arabic.
But English isn't one of them. After all, he heads a group that rejects
all things Western.
He's elusive Even his age is unknown — estimates range between 38
and 49. The U.S. State Department has Shekau's year of birth listed
as 1965, 1969 and 1975.
He's a loner Analysts describe Shekau as a loner and a master of
disguise. He does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate
through a few select confidants.
He uses many aliases: Abu Bakr Skikwa, Imam Abu Bakr Shiku and Abu
Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Muhammad Al Shakwi Al Muslimi Bishku among them.
He was an unruly No. 2
Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic, well-educated
cleric who drove a Mercedes as part of his push for a pure Islamic state
in Nigeria. He wasn't too effective as a leader and had a hard time
keeping his second-in-command in check. Shekau was more radical and had
… And merciless as No. 1
Mohammed Yusuf was killed in a security crackdown in 2009, along with
about 700 of his followers. That left Shekau in charge. He vowed to strike
back, and his group has spared no one: government workers, police
officers, journalists, villagers, students and churchgoers. Human Rights
Watch estimates that in the past five years, more than 3,000 people have
He's come back from the dead The Nigerian military has touted
Shekau's death several times, only to retract its claim after he appeared
alive and vibrant in propaganda videos. They almost got him in
September 2012 when they raided his home, where he had snuck in for his
six-day-old baby's naming ceremony, according to the International Crisis
Group. He managed to get away with a gunshot wound to the leg; his wife
and three children were taken by the military.
He uses Islam to recruit and radicalize The northeast, where Boko
Haram has been most active, is economically depressed and among the least
educated regions in Nigeria. Shekau has done a good job of convincing
residents that the powers in Abuja are corrupt and a better system of
government would be a strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law across
Nigeria. And his promise, coupled with a weapon and a license to plunder,
has been enticing to hundreds of young men.
… and the government's response isn't helping The central
government's heavy-handed and frequently untargeted anti-terrorism
campaign has just helped create more members to sustain Boko Haram. The
country's own Human Rights Commission last year accused the military of
arbitrary killings, torture and rape in its campaign against the group.
This makes for fertile territory for Boko Haram. He's exporting his
brand of terror There's no firm evidence as yet that Boko Haram has
ambitions beyond Nigeria. But its campaign of terror has spilled into
remote parts of Cameroon and it appears to have informal links with
militant Islamist groups in Mali and Niger.
He's made good on his brutal threat It was in May 2013 that Shekau
first announced in a video that Boko Haram would start kidnapping girls.
The kidnappings, he said, were retaliation for Nigerian security forces
nabbing the wives and children of group members. The most horrifying
instance was last month's abduction of 276 girls from a girl's
school. “I abducted your girls,” he taunted with a chilling smile in
a new video that surfaced this week. “There is a market for selling
humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
There's a $7 million bounty on his head Shekau has been on the radar
of U.S. officials since he came to power in 2009. Last June, the United
States put a bounty on him, offering a reward of up to $7 million for
information leading to his location.
… But that's yet to yield results Here's why, says CNN's Chief
International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour: “(African warlord) Joseph
Kony's had a bounty for years and years. Even with the 'Stop Kony' video
that went viral, nothing has happened to get Joseph Kony — even though
it's about the only thing in Africa that the United States has committed
some forces and some intelligence to.
“Osama bin Laden was not given up because of the $25 million bounty. And
who knows whether this will be the case.”
*Ahmed is a CNN analyst