MONGUNO , Nigeria, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Several people were reported killed in sectarian battles within the Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram, sources said.
The Islamic state-backed group has terrorized Nigeria and surrounding countries since 2009 in an attempt to establish a caliphate in western Africa. At least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in indiscriminate violence and about 2.6 million have been displaced.
Boko Haram saw a split in its ranks between followers of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who took control in August after the reported death of Abubakar Shekau, and troops loyal to Shekau. Although the Nigerian army has said at least twice that it killed Shekau, he insists he is still in charge.
Sources mentioned by the online news organization Sahara Reporters said skirmishes in Nigeria's northern Borno state between troops loyal to al-Barnawi and to Shekau resulted in the deaths of several Shekau loyalists. Another 18 Boko Haram members, with their families, surrendered to Nigerian soldiers after the clashes, Ali Mohammed, a civilian vigilante protector of the town of Monguno, told Bloomberg News Wednesday.
"They are under custody of Monguno command and we believe the dual battle between Albarnawi and Shekau's camps may have compelled them to sneak out and surrender," Mohammed said.
The Nigerian army, which has said Boko Haram's influence is declining as the military concentrates its efforts on a counter-offensive aimed at eliminating the group, offered no comment on reports of the factional split.