A man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has appeared in a new video, contradicting Nigerian military reports that he was killed, French news agency AFP reported on Thursday.
Screen grabs of the video, seen by Reuters, show a figure in boots and combat fatigues who looks similar to the man claiming to be Shekau in previous videos.
“Here I am, alive. I will only die the day Allah takes my breath,” he says in the northern Hausa language, reported the news agency, which normally receives Boko Haram tapes first, before they are distributed online.
Nigeria’s military said last week that the man who had been posing as Shekau in the group’s growing number of videos had been killed in clashes over the town of Konduga.
The military announced the death of Shekau himself a year ago, saying he had died in battle.
After that, the man appearing in videos as Shekau did look different from before, with a wider nose, less defined bridge and a rounder face.
In the most recent video, Shekau says “nothing will kill me until my days are over … Some people asked you if Shekau has two souls. No, I have one soul, by Allah,” AFP said.
Boko Haram, whose violent five-year campaign for an Islamic state has killed thousands, has in the past two months progressed from bombings, raids and kidnappings to trying to seize territory.
The military has had mixed results trying to push back the militants, and low morale, indiscipline and poor equipment have hurt its ability to fight effectively.
Nigeria’s military court martialled 97 of its troops for various offences on Thursday, including mutiny, assault, absconding, house breaking and disorderly behaviour, it said.
In his last video, the Shekau figure declared the remote areas they control near Cameroon as “Muslim territory”, echoing the declaration of a caliphate by militants in Iraq and Syria.
But holding territory has also made them more vulnerable to attacks by Nigerian forces backed by fighter jets, security sources say. The military said it inflicted heavy losses on the Islamists in the past two weeks.
Bellicose as ever, Shekau stands on the back of a pick-up truck, firing an anti-aircraft gun into the air. The video also shows people being stoned to death and being given lashes, both traditional Islamic punishments, AFP said.
There is also footage of Boko Haram fighters picking through the wreckage of an aircraft they claim to have shot down. Nigeria’s military is still looking for a war plane that went missing more than two weeks ago.