Boko Haram released a new video on Tuesday rejecting claims they have been routed in a four-nation offensive, while a suicide bomber killed 13 people in the Islamists’ northeast stronghold.
The video published online and the bombing in the Borno state capital Maiduguri came as Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari met security chiefs in Abuja after vowing to crush the uprising.
The 10-minute message released on YouTube was the first video from the Islamist militants since February and did not show leader Abubakar Shekau.
Shekau, who has been accused of war crimes, has appeared in most of the insurgents’ messages over the past three years and his absence will raise immediate questions concerning his whereabouts.
Buhari will on Wednesday take his first foreign trip abroad since his inauguration last Friday, visiting Chad and Niger, which with Cameroon are key partners in the battle against the rebels, whose insurgency has claimed at least 15,000 lives since 2009.
– ‘False propaganda’ –
The video bore the logo “Islamic State in West Africa” and comes after Shekau in March pledged allegiance in an audio message to the IS group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq.
An unidentified man pictured in front of two-pick up trucks speaks with his face obscured by a headscarf and with an AK-47 rifle resting on his chest.
“Most of our territory is still under our control,” he said, dismissing claims of the coalition’s sweeping victories.
“The armies claim through the media that they captured our towns and that they assaulted Sambisa (forest) and defeated us,” he said, referring to the bushland area Borno that has been an Islamist stronghold.
“I swear by Allah that I am talking right now from Sambisa,” he added, speaking in the Hausa language that is dominant in northern Nigeria with Arabic and English subtitles shown below.
“Here in Sambisa you can travel more than four to five hours under the black flag of Islam by car or by motorbike…
“We are uncountable in Sambisa,” he added, dismissing reports of the insurgents’ defeat as “false propaganda”.
There was no immediate response from the military.
Shekau was not referenced at any point — a major departure from past Boko Haram statements.
Analysts have typically viewed Boko Haram as a factionalised group, with a relatively weak central command structure and it is possible Shekau has been marginalised if not killed.
But solid information concerning power struggles within Boko Haram has been scant to non-existent, so the current make-up of the group is largely unknown.
– ‘Sifting through body parts’ –
The attack in Maiduguri saw a bomber blow himself up in a busy cattle market at about 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) as traders were wrapping up business for the day, witnesses said.
Northeast Red Cross spokesman Umar Sadiq 13 people died and 24 others were injured.
“We’re trying to sift human bodies from carcasses of cattle that are strewn all over the place,” Shettima Bulama, a civilian vigilante assisting the military against Boko Haram, told AFP.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest attack but it bore the hallmarks of the group and Bulama said the victims were “carefully targeted”.
The attack came after Boko Haram militants again pounded Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades in the early hours of Tuesday, after hitting the city in a similar attack on Saturday.
A suicide bomber also blew himself up at a mosque on Saturday, killing 26 worshippers and injuring 28 others.
– Command and control –
Buhari last Friday announced that the military’s counter-insurgency command and control centre would be moved to Maiduguri from the capital, Abuja, until Boko Haram is defeated.
The 72-year-old former army general, who headed a military regime in Nigeria in the 1980s, said the move was necessary to defeat an insurgent group he described as “godless” and “mindless”.
The Islamists struck hours after Buhari was sworn in, a clear sign he will likely be tested in the early weeks of his administration and after his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan struggled for years to stem the violence.
After the meeting in Abuja, top military brass told reporters they would aim to make Buhari’s new command centre operational soon.
“It’s a presidential directive. We must come back as quickly as possible,” said the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Usman Jibril.
SOURCE: Bukar Hussain