LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Boko Haram has a new commander willing to negotiate with Nigeria's new government, Chad's President Idriss Deby announced Wednesday, fueling speculation the extremist group's previous commander has been killed.
Rumors of the death of Abubakar Shekau have grown since the leader has not appeared for months in videos broadcast by Nigeria's homegrown Islamic militant group.
"There is somebody apparently called Mahamat Daoud who is said to have replaced Abubakar Shekau, and he wants to negotiate with the Nigerian government," Deby said in comments broadcast by Chad state radio. He did not say where the information came from.
"I would not advise negotiating with a terrorist," said Deby, though he himself led one failed attempt last year. Other attempts under Nigeria's previous government also failed, partly because the group is believed fractured into several factions.
Nigeria's new President Muhammadu Buhari has said his government is open to talks, but also would pursue the military option.
Deby said a five-nation regional army based in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, would be deployed in days and predicted it would destroy Boko Haram by year's end. He said the group already has been "decapitated."
Chadian troops earlier this year helped drive the insurgents out of northeastern Nigerian towns where they had declared an "Islamic caliphate" and prosecuted strict Shariah law. But hundreds have died in suicide bombings and village attacks in recent months. The 6-year-old Islamic uprising has killed 20,000 people and spilled across Nigeria's borders.
On Tuesday, a bomb blast in a northeastern Nigerian village killed at least 24 people and Cameroonian troops repelled an invasion on a border town by hundreds of Boko Haram fighters who crossed the border.
Suicide bombings in Chad killed dozens in three attacks in June and July on the capital, N'Djamena.