Once again, despite death reports, Boko Haram leader reappears

Abubakar Shekau has been declared killed as many as five times previously, only to have videos surface showing him alive and well.

Boko Haram handout via Reuters TV/File
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, made an appearance in a video released by the militant group on Sunday. In the video, he mocked the Nigerian military and spoke about the Chibok girls, who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April, 2014.

The Nigerian military reported that they had fatally wounded Shekau in August.

Shekau has survived many supposed assassinations since the Chibok kidnappings caught the world's attention over two years ago. Sources have prematurely claimed declared the leader dead up to five times previously, only to have videos like this one surface showing Shekau apparently alive and well.

"You have been spreading in the social media that you injured or killed me," Shekau said in the latest video released on YouTube. "Oh tyrants, I'm in a happy state, in good health and in safety."

Nigerian authorities had hoped that the leader was actually dead this time, especially after the group released a video earlier in September with Shekau conspicuously absent. That video contained only an unidentified man in a white robe who claimed to be representing Shekau as he led prayers in a mosque, according to France 24.

Shekau's group is actually a splinter group from the original Boko Haram organization. As the Monitor previously reported:

The formerly undisputed leader of the terrorist group was recently replaced with more ISIS-friendly leadership a year after the group pledged its allegiance to the Syrian-based group and changed its name to ISWAP. Shekau, who seems to have favored a more independent vision of Boko Haram, seems to be in charge of only small group of fighters who still refer to themselves by their original name.

Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram's founder, Mohammed Yusuf, currently rules the ISIS-approved ISWAP, and has declared Shekau his enemy. Shekau used to be a mentor to al-Barnawi.

Because of this split, Shekau's Boko Haram is certainly weaker than it used to be. But Jacob Zenn, an international affairs consultant to the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C., policy institute, warns that the fight with Shekau is far from over.

"He has more fighters than either al-Barnawi or Nur, especially from the Kanuri ethnic group around Lake Chad," Mr. Zenn told Reuters. 

The Nur referenced by Zenn is Mamman Nur, the leader of Ansaru, yet another faction that split from the original Boko Haram group. Writing in the CTC Sentinel, published by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, Zenn notes that Nur opposes Shekau's leadership style, a disagreement that helped drive Ansaru's 2012 split from Boko Haram in 2012. 

The seven-year conflict is not going well, and the international attention the Boko Haram conflict received after the kidnapping of the Chibok girls has largely dried up, according to The New York Times. The United Nations has been unable to raise even a fourth of the necessary funds to provide adequate humanitarian aid to the area, despite a 2015 report indicating that Boko Haram was even deadlier than the Islamic State that year.

The news isn't all bad, however. The Nigerian military has capitalized on the recent fractures within the formerly unified Boko Haram, taking back swaths of territory from the terrorist-held lands since a campaign launched in February of 2014. Zenn also told Reuters that many Shekau supporters within ISIS are now dead, which makes it unlikely that he will be reinstated as leader of a unified Boko Haram/ISWAP over al-Barnawi.

Nigeria's military has yet to comment on Boko Haram's latest video.

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