The leader of Nigerian extremist group Boko Haram has apparently re-emerged in a new recording, declaring he is still in charge of the sect that has laid waste to a portion of Nigeria’s northeast and prompted an international military response.
When Abubakar Shekau wants to send a message, he usually does so on video and with bombast. But his latest message features none of the armed, masked men or piles of ammunition that are typical of his videos.
Rather, Shekau’s latest message is simply an audio recording.
Alive, in charge
Nonetheless, he makes clear in this message that he is alive and still in charge of Boko Haram.
That is at odds with recent statements made by Chadian President Idriss Deby, who said last week Shekau has been wounded and replaced by another commander as leader of the Islamist militant group.
Deby also claimed the group was open to negotiating with Nigeria’s government.
Bawa Abdullahi Wase, security analyst and associate at the Nigeria-based Network for Justice, said Shekau’s recording is evidence of a split in the group.
“He has the fear of his colleagues that they have now left him on his own," Wase said. "That is the commanders. And he has the fear of the government.”
Shekau’s fate has long been disputed. The Nigerian military has previously claimed to have killed him, only to see Shekau reemerge on camera.
But while the group has kept releasing videos in recent months, Shekau has not appeared since February.
Wase said Shekau sounds subdued in the recording, perhaps an indication that he had to flee or was wounded in the ongoing fighting between the militaries of Nigeria and its neighbors against the insurgents.
Shekau "would not want people to see him in physical disability," he said. "He would not want people to see some signs of him that he was injured.”
A task force of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin is expected to soon deploy against the extremists.
The group has killed, at minimum, several hundred people since Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took office at the end of May.