LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is believed to have been fatally wounded in an airstrike while he was praying in a forest stronghold in northeast Nigeria, the military said Tuesday.
A statement does not say how the military got the information but it identifies other commanders as "confirmed dead."
Nigerian security forces have at least three times in the past declared that they have killed or fatally wounded Shekau, only to have him resurface in video and audio recordings. The military has said in the past that Boko Haram was using look-alike fighters to impersonate the supposedly dead leader.
The strikes came in "the most unprecedented and spectacular air raid" carried out by the Nigerian Air Force while Shekau was praying on Friday, Islam's sabbath day, at Taye village in the extremists' Sambisa Forest holdout in northeast Nigeria, according to the statement signed by army spokesman Col. Sani Kukasheka Usman.
"Those Boko Haram terrorist commanders confirmed dead include Abubakar Mubi, Malam Nuhu and Malam Hamman, amongst others. While their leader, so-called 'Abubakar Shekau', is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders. Several other terrorists were also wounded," he said.
The statement comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, with President Muhammadu Buhari, on a visit to discuss Islamic extremism and regional security.
Shekau started the uprising in 2009 that has killed 20,000 people, driven more than 2.2 million from their homes, and spread across Nigeria's borders. It has been marked by deadly attacks and suicide bombings at schools, mosques and marketplaces and mass abductions including nearly 300 schoolgirls taken from a remote school in northeastern Chibok town. Dozens escaped but 218 remain missing.
Boko Haram — which means "Western education is forbidden — resurfaced as a deadly and merciless force under Shekau, who took over after a military raid on the group's compound in Maiduguri, the biggest city in the northeast, killed some 700 people and captured leader Mohammed Yusuf was assassinated in police custody.