The Nigerian military said Tuesday it had killed a number of senior leaders of the ruthless Boko Haram terrorist group and possibly the group's notorious commander.
The announcement came the same day U.S. Secretary to State John Kerry arrived in Nigeria for talks on how to combat militants in the West African nation, Africa's most populous.
"Their leader, so-called Abubakar Shekau, is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders," Nigerian military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman said in a statement.
Usman also said three Boko Haram commanders — Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman — were killed and several others wounded in airstrikes in the Sambisa Forest near the Cameroon border, Al Jazeera reported.
The military has made similar claims before, only to backtrack.
Boko Haram is based in the northeastern state of Borno, where it has conducted a series of violent terror attacks in its effort to establish strict islamic law. The group made international headlines two years ago when it kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok. Earlier this month, the group claimed some of the girls had been injured in government airstrikes and that others had married Boko Haram fighters.
Shekau has led Boko Haram since 2009, although his grip was recently loosened after Islamic State leaders named an alternative leader for a Boko Haram splinter group. Shekau has denied losing any authority over the militants.
Kerry, visiting the cities of Sokoto and Abuja, is meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss counterterrorism efforts, the Nigerian economy, the fight against corruption and human rights issues.
In Sokoto, Kerry will deliver a speech on the importance of resilient communities and religious tolerance in countering violent extremism. In Abuja, the Secretary will meet with a group of adolescent girls working to change community perceptions that devalue the role of girls in society. Kerry also will meet with northern governors and religious leaders.
Nigeria's 184 million population is almost evenly split between Muslims, who are dominant in the north, and Christians who represent a majority in the south.