Abubakar Shekau, a leading Boko Haram figure, has appeared in a video saying he is in “good health” and denying claims by the Nigerian army that he was fatally wounded in an airstrike last month. It is not clear when the video was recorded, but the references to the airstrike and the fact that the Nigerian army has falsely declared him dead on at least two other occasions lend weight to its veracity.
If Shekau is alive, this reinforces the uncertainty around the organisational structure of Boko Haram, an insurgency that is believed to have killed over 200,000 people in its quest to create an Islamic Caliphate in the Lake Chad region. It is apparently split between a faction loyal to the Islamic State, the international parent which shunned Shekau by backing lesser-known Abu Musab al-Barnawi as leader in early August, and Shekau’s own more regional faction structure (see IISA’s explainer).
It is unknown how strong his power-base is, but Shekau’s loyalists are believed to be in possession of the so-called Chibok girls, a group of schoolgirls kidnapped by the group in 2014 which has become the focus of international media and ultimately a powerful bargaining chip with the Nigerian government.
Shekau stresses his continued relevance in this most recent footage, demanding the release of Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls. He also threatens Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, who this week invited United Nations as mediators for any discussions with the militant group. The Islamic State’s flag appears on the top right-hand side corner of the video, which would show Shekau’s sustained embrace of the IS brand, despite the parent’s apparent disassociation with him.