Sources said in Abuja that security agencies traced the whereabouts of Shekau, who succeeded late Mohammed Yusuf as leader of the sect to Mali, where he escaped to after sustaining injuries during a gun duel with soldiers of the Joint Task Force, JTF, a.k.a Operation Restore Order.
Sources told Saturday Vanguard that the Federal Government approved the deployment of 1,200 soldiers apparently because of the need to arrest the wounded Boko Haram leader.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika who addressed officers and soldiers of the Nigerian army shortly before they were airlifted to Mali Thursday in Kaduna, asked them to be extra vigilant as there are indications that some terrorists had sneaked into the country with the aim of causing havoc.
Ihejirika however, pointed out that the Nigerian Army was not resting on its oars as the war against terror was being won.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that the battle between the JTF and the sect members took place at Gao city, in the heart of Northern Mali presently under the control of Tuareg militants.
It was further learnt that Shekau, who is having N50million ransom hanging on his head from the Federal Government, was ferried to Mali through one of the porous routes in the vast Nigerian border without Customs and Immigration authorities getting wind of it.
Saturday Vanguard was told that while the Boko Haram leader was being given medication in Gao, the foreign sponsors of the sect’s activities in Nigeria, were busy, using his name to indoctrinate, train and recruit more members for the sect.
Shekau was said to have been shot at a checkpoint when he reportedly attempted to deceive operatives of the JTF by posing as a nomadic Fulani who was returning from a journey. However, on approach of the vehicle conveying him and members of his sect, ‘’a hot exchange of gunfire ensued as the sect members started firing at the soldiers who equally returned fire for fire.’’
During the crossfire, he and two other sect members with him escaped with gunshot wounds while two members of the sect were killed on the spot. Some AK 47 rifles were recovered from the vehicle.
While stating that most of the weaponry including IEDS recovered from Boko Haram members have been traced to the weaponry used during the Libyan uprising against late Libyan leader, Gaddafi, the source said Nigerian security agencies believed that the more sophisticated and deadly weaponry had gotten to the hands of sect members but they are unable to operate them because they are not trained for it.
The source cited the discovery of Shekau’s hideout and the training base for Boko Haram sect members to unleash terror on Nigerians as a further justification of the action of the federal government to deploy 1, 200 troops as well as Airforce fighter and transport aircraft to Mali to help flush out the Tuareg militants and their sponsors.
Saturday Vanguard further gathered that security has been beefed up along the Nigerian Army First Mechanized Division and the Third Armoured Division’s areas of responsibilities with the deployment of soldiers at the borders to complement the work of other security agencies following the escalation of the Mali crisis with a view to checkmating infiltrations into the country by terrorists.
Last December, a total sum of N290 million ransom was approved for anyone who could assist in locating Imam Abubakar Shekau and 18 other leaders of Boko Haram.
A release by the JTF listed the wanted Boko Haram leaders to include five members of the Shurra (the highest decision-making body of the sect) Committee and 19 of their commanders.
The five members of the Shurra Committee of the sect, including Imam Abubakar Shekau whose ramsom was N50 million, and Habibu Yusuf (a.k.a Asalafi), Khalid Albarnawai, Momodu Bama and Mohammed Zangina. Apart from Imam Shekau whose ransom was put at N50 million, the other Shurra members’ ransom was put at N25million each.
A ransom of N10 million each was put on the Boko Haram Commanders including, Abu Saad, Abba Kaka, Abdulmalik Bama, Umar Fulata, Alhaji Mustapha, (Massa) Ibrahim and Abubakar Suleiman-Habu a.k.a Khalid.
Other commanders also included Hassan Jazair, Ali Jalingo, Alhaji Musa Modu, Bashir Aketa, Abba Goroma, Ibrahim Bashir, Abubakar Zakariya and Tukur Ahmed Mohammed.
The JTF statement on the N290 million ransom then, reads in part; “They are wanted in connection with terrorist activities, particularly in the North East zone of Nigeria that led to the killings, bombings and assassination of some civilians, religious leaders, traditional rulers, businessmen, politicians, civil servants and security personnel, among others.
They are also wanted for arson and destruction of properties worth millions of naira.Therefore, anyone with information that will lead to the arrest of any of the listed terrorists or more will have the rewards (placed on them) as stated.’’