Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Questions over fate of Boko Haram leader after he fails to appear new propaganda video

Absence of Abubakar Shekau from terror group's latest broadcast prompts speculation that he may have been killed or removed as leader

Speculation is mounting over the fate of the leader of Nigeria's Boko Haram terror sect after the group released a propaganda video in which he was absent.

The group's latest broadcast neither featured nor mentioned Abubakar Shekau, whose cackling, ranting speeches normally play a central role in their publicity videos.

His absence has prompted questions over whether he may have have been killed, injured or removed from the group as its overall commander. 

During a visit to Boko Haram's strongholds in north-east Nigeria last month, The Daily Telegraph was told by soldiers that they believed he had fled the country, shaving off his Islamist beard to help him disguise.

The new ten-minute long video featured an unidentified young man who said he spoke in the name of "The army of the caliphate in West Africa". The name, versions of which have been used by Boko Haram in the past, is believed to be reference to the group's declaration of allegiance earlier this year to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The masked speaker in the video uses the broadcast to deny the Nigerian army's claims that it has retaken much of Boko Haram's core territory in the north-east. He also brandishes the ID cards of government soldiers that he claims Boko Haram has killed, and points to the wreckage of what he says is a warplane that has been brought down.

The speaker, who was carrying a rifle, said that he was currently based in the Sambisa Forest, a wooded area the size of Belgium that is the group's main hideout. In the last two months, the Nigerian army has raided at least five Boko Haram camps in the forest, freeing around 750 kidnapped women and children.

Reports of Shekau's death have proved premature in the past, with several previous claims by the Nigerian military that he had been killed subsequently proved false.

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