The leader of the infamous Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram has reportedly released an eight-minute audio message denying the latest reports of his death. The Telegraph reports that Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau ridiculed Chadian President Deby’s claims that the organization had been “decapitated” and would be destroyed by the end of the year.
There have been numerous reports of Shekau’s death over the years, with the latest being prompted by the normally-prominent leader’s absence from recent Boko Haram propaganda videos, reports the BBC.
There has been a long history of spurious claims around Boko Haram, with the group itself broadcasting wildly improbable forecasts of its future power, and the Nigerian government almost as improbably claiming that it will wipe the group out within three months.
While this kind of thing may appear comical, with heads of state like Deby making sweeping statements on the back of unsubstantiated speculation, and the Boko Haram leadership emphatically denying his own death, via pre-recorded message, the reality of the group and its operations is horrific. Boko Haram has been responsible for thousands of deaths in horrific suicide, IED, and small arms attacks. Recently, it allied itself with an ISIS affiliate, teaming up to take over a large chunk of territory North Eastern Nigeria, calling itself and it’s “caliphate” the “West African Province.” Most famously, Boko Haram is responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls of the Chibok tribe, most of whom are still missing and presumed enslaved or forcibly married to members of the group.
While most of the territory taken by Boko Haram and its allies has been retaken, this is not necessarily a sign that the group is on the wane. In fact, such a reverse would fall in the realms of the inevitable, with ISIS in its heartland being anomalous in its ability to hold territory. Traditionally, insurgent groups cannot and do not attempt to hold on to real estate, and the specialized conditions which allowed ISIS’ territorial gains in Iraq and Syria do not exist in Boko Haram’s African heartland.
Boko Haram continues to recruit, attack, and broadcast as much as it ever has. It is by far the most serious threat to the stability of the Nigerian state and its regional neighbors and cheap territorial gains are unlikely to effect this situation in any significant way.
Boko Haram was formed in 2002 and began its military operations in 2009. The name “Boko Haram” means “Western Education is Forbidden” in the Hausa language, “Haram” being a word borrowed from Arabic.
[Image via IBT/Reuters]