Nigeria's Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has been seriously wounded after trying to kill himself to avoid capture during clashes with rival Islamic State-allied jihadists in the north of the country, two intelligence sources said on Thursday.
Shekau's Boko Haram faction and fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) had been battling in northeastern Borno state, where ISWAP has become the dominant force in Nigeria's more than decade-long jihadist insurgency.
Nigerian news sites and social media on Thursday were filled with rumours and unconfirmed reports about the death of the jihadist leader who made international headlines when his men kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in 2014.
It was not the first time Shekau has been reported killed or seriously wounded. If confirmed, though, his loss could be a huge blow to a jihadist group already weakened by air strikes on its bases and defections of his fighters.
After a series of clashes, Shekau and some of his men were surrounded on Wednesday by ISWAP jihadists in Boko Haram's Sambisa forest stronghold, where they demanded he surrender, one intelligence source said.
"To avoid capture, Shekau shot himself in the chest and the bullet pierced his shoulder," the source said. "He was badly injured."
Some fighters managed to escape with him to an unknown destination, the source added.
A second intelligence source said Shekau was critically wounded after detonating explosives in the house where he was holed up with his men.
"We are investigating," Nigeria's army spokesman Mohammed Yerima told AFP by text, asked about those reports.