An audio recording released Aug. 16 claiming Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is still alive is believed to be authentic, dispelling rumors of his death and refuting Chad President Idriss Deby’s claim to have “decapitated” the group.
“It is indeed all over the global media of infidels that I am dead or that I am sick and incapacitated and have lost influence in the affairs of religion,” Shekau said in an eight-minute Hausa-language message, the French news agency AFP (Agence France-Presse) reported. “It should be understood that this is false. This is indeed a lie.”
The Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group, a watchdog organization that tracks the global threat posed by jihad, verified the authenticity of the recording, AFP said, as did an AFP correspondent who has reported extensively on Boko Haram.
The recording weakens the Aug. 12 statement by Chad’s president that a regional five-nation army of 8,700 soldiers based in Chad was to be deployed within days and was poised to destroy Boko Haram by year’s end, because Shekau had already been removed.
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In an Oct. 5, 2014 video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau dispels earlier rumors of his death. The Nigerian military had claimed to have killed Shekau in a series of battles near Maiduguri, Nigeria a month earlier.
“There is somebody apparently called Mahamat Daoud who is said to have replaced Abubakar Shekau, and he wants to negotiate with the Nigerian government,” Deby had said on Chad state radio, but had not given the source of his information.
Shekau has been reported dead several times during Boko Haram’s insurgency, but has dispelled rumors by resurfacing in new videos, some of them speculated to be fake, according to news reports.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari began office May 29 under a pledge to defeat Boko Haram, but the terrorists have killed between 600 and 900 people in Nigeria and surrounding countries under Buhari’s presidency, adding to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 the group has murdered since 2009. The terrorists have targeted Christians but have also killed moderate Muslims and others.
Buhari installed new Nigeria military chiefs Aug. 13 and ordered them to stop Boko Haram’s insurgency within three months.
“You need to brace up and continue to team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well-coordinated joint effort which will bring a desired end to these insurgencies within three months,” Buhari told chiefs at the installation ceremony in Abuja, the AFP reported. “The activities of these misguided groups and individuals have resulted in wanton destruction of lives and properties of our citizens and a disruption of social economic lives of millions of Nigerians.”
At other times, Buhari has pledged to stop Boko Haram no later than the end of 2017, but Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist expert in Nigerian relations, told Baptist Press that Buhari’s timelines are speculative.
“Although [Buhari] has made substantive effort at rallying the coalition of neighboring countries towards combating Boko Haram, as well as major changes on the command and control structure of the Nigerian military, the sustained and escalated terrorism by Boko Haram remains unabated,” Ojutiku said.
Instead, Buhari has focused most of his energy on fighting governmental corruption. “Security and economic policy issues seem to more or less be on [Buhari’s] longer-term agenda,” Ojutiku said.
Nigeria and its neighbors have enjoyed some successes against the terrorists since Buhari took office.
On Aug. 2, Nigeria reported the rescue of 178 people from Boko Haram and the destruction of several Islamic extremist camps while countering an attack in northeastern Nigeria. The rescue included 101 children, 67 women and 10 men, the Associated Press reported. The country had rescued 71 people the previous week, but the Aug. 2 report did not state the dates of the attacks.
The international community focused on Boko Haram in April, 2014, when the terrorists kidnapped more than 300 teenage schoolgirls in Chibok. As many as 75 of the girls escaped, but about 220 remain missing and are feared sold as Muslim sex slaves or used as suicide bombers.
Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to ISIS and is committed to establishing strict sharia law across Nigeria. In 2014 alone, 42 percent of all attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria were on Christian communities, while 35.4 percent targeted random civilians, according to the Jubilee Campaign for global religious freedom. Other attacks in 2014 targeted Muslim communities (6.8 percent), the government (10.9 percent), schools (4.1 percent), and media and medical personnel (0.5 percent), according to the Jubilee Campaign 2015 Report on Nigeria.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)