Borno State, Nigeria
Photograph: Google maps

The leader of Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has been “fatally wounded” in an airstrike, the Nigerian military said Tuesday as US Secretary of State John Kerry began a two-day visit to the country.

Abubakar Shekau sustained serious injuries when the air force raided a Boko Haram camp in the north-eastern village of Taye, situated in the Sambisa forest of Borno State, army spokesman Sani Usman said in a statement.

Several other top Boko Haram leaders were killed or injured during the raid, which took place during Islamic Friday prayers, according to Usman.

It is not the first time Nigeria has reportedly killed Shekau. In the past he has turned up alive after such claims by the government.

The military has made “important progress” in the fight against Boko Haram in recent months by recapturing large pieces of territory previously controlled by the terrorists, Kerry said during a press conference in the northern town of Sokoto broadcast on national television.

But Kerry also stressed the need to respect human rights in the crackdown against terrorism.

“In the wake of terrorist activity, some are tempted to crack down on anyone and everyone. But extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear,” said Kerry. “Fear instilled through repression invites not confidence but contempt. It creates terrorists.”

Kerry addressed the media after meeting with the sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, as well as several Christian and Muslim religious leaders.

He also called for more tolerance among Nigerians to “overcome deep-seated ethnic and religious divisions.”

Later on Tuesday, Kerry met President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital Abuja to discuss terrorism, the nation’s troubled economy and bilateral relations between Nigeria and the United States.

Kerry said on Twitter he expressed strong support for Buhari's efforts to fight corruption, terrorism and improve Nigeria's economy.

Boko Haram poses a steady threat to communities in the north-east of Nigeria and has also launched offensives in neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The group's goal is to enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic law, known as sharia.

Since 2009, at least 14,000 people have died at the hands of the Sunni fundamentalists.

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