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Boko Haram Leader Appears Alive in Video — But Nigeria Still Says He's Dead

The man heading the Islamist group has been reported dead on multiple occasions, most recently in a September battle around the northern town of Konduga.
October 3, 2014, 3:39pm
Image via AP

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram militant group fighting to carve out an Islamist caliphate in Nigeria's north, released a video this week of a 16-minute rant mocking the Nigerian army's claim to have killed him.

Nigeria's army, however, still maintains that it did — suggesting that Boko Haram may have "cloned another Shekau," manipulated images, or that the video was recorded before his death.

In the film, obtained by AFP, Shekau stands on the back of a truck bearing an anti-aircraft weapon, firing bursts from a machine gun into the air. He then reappears standing in front of four masked and armed fighters and camouflaged vehicles displaying the black flag of Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to "Western education is forbidden."

"Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath," he says, shaking his head and gesticulating vigorously towards the camera with what appears to be a script in his hand. He then goes on to give a long list of people whose "wishes" will not kill him — including Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Queen Elizabeth and "the infidels of the world."

"Nothing will kill me until my days are over," he says, speaking in Arabic and Hausa, the regional language.

Shekau insists that Boko Haram has established an Islamic caliphate in the towns it has captured in Nigeria's north, and that the group is ruling its territory according to strict sharia law. Graphic images are shown of an amputation, a beheading, and a death by stoning, according to AFP, which did not release the full video.

In the 36-minute film, Shekau also claims that the group shot down a Nigerian Air Force plane that disappeared in the northeast of the country on September 11. Fighters are shown picking through what appears to be wreckage of a military jet. The Nigerian military has previously denied it was downed by Boko Haram.

The armed forces also dismissed the video as proof of life, Nigerian Defence Headquarters saying in an online statement that it did not indicate when it was shot. The plane had been missing before he was killed, it said, while the film made no reference to any event that had happened since.

"It should not surprise anybody if the terrorists decide to manipulate pictures, clone another Shekau, or upload a pre-recorded video all in a bid to prove invincible," the statement said.

"As far as we are concerned, the individual who was appearing in video and claiming to be the leader of the terrorist group was killed in the Konduga battle in September. The resemblance of the corpse and that of the eccentric character was incontrovertible. His identity was equally corroborated by people who knew him before we announced his death."

It is not uncommon for the Nigerian military to retract claims regarding operations, and security analysts and local media have cast doubt on the reliability of its statements. In late September it announced that some of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April had been freed, only to backtrack days later. It had already been criticized over incidents of misinformation in that case.

Boko Haram Has Released a Video Showing Abducted School Girls. Read more here.

The latest report of Shekau's death — it is not the first — has been surrounded by confusion from the outset. First it was claimed that he had died across the border in fighting with the Cameroon army. Then, Nigeria's military said it killed him — or at least, the man appearing in Boko Haram's videos — on September 17 in the clashes around Konduga, close to Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern Borno state.

There is also the question of whether that man was himself the real Shekau. The military previously announced the death of the Boko Haram leader a year ago, and has suggested that the individual appearing in Boko Haram's growing number of videos since is an impostor.

In what appears to be an illusion to that claim, Shekau says in the latest film, according to AFP: " Some people asked you if Shekau has two souls. No, I have one soul, by Allah."

Follow Hannah Strange on Twitter: @hannahkstrange