May 28, 2013
NIGERIAN MILITARY A handout picture released on May 25, 2013 by the Nigerian military shows members of the Nigerian Defence headquarter team inspecting an alleged Boko Haram base in Kirenowa. AFP
The leader of Islamist extremist group Boko Haram claims in a video obtained by AFP on Tuesday that Nigerian soldiers have retreated during an ongoing military offensive while insurgents have sustained little damage.
The video marks the first public comments from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau since the start of a sweeping offensive by the Nigerian army on May 15 and also includes a call for foreign Islamists to join the fight in Nigeria.
Shekau's whereabouts cannot be determined in the video, in which he is shown seated and dressed in camouflage with a turban, an AK-47 at his side.
His comments contradict statements from the military, which has claimed major successes during the offensive, including the destruction of Boko Haram camps and dozens of arrests.
It has been impossible to verify the claims of either side independently, with the military having cut mobile phone service in much of the country's northeast and access to remote locations restricted.
"Since we started this ongoing war which they call state of emergency ... in some instances soldiers who faced us turned and ran," Shekau says in the hour-long video.
He claims Nigerian forces "threw down their arms in flight."
He calls on like-minded Islamists in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to join the fight to create an Islamic state in Nigeria.
"We call to us our brethren in these countries I mentioned. Oh! Our brethren, come to us," he says in the video, which alternates between Arabic and the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria.
The video later purports to show vehicles and weapons seized from Nigerian soldiers.
Shekau, designated a global terrorist by the United States last year, repeats earlier statements that Boko Haram "will not stop the kidnap of your women and children until you set free our women and children, and our brethren."
He also says Boko Haram's goal is either the creation of an Islamic state or "martyrdom".
The video was delivered to AFP though an intermediary in a manner similar to previous Boko Haram messages. The images of Shekau in the video are consistent with those previously released.
Army says 'terrorist' aide found dead, two detained
Nigeria launched the offensive against Boko Haram after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three states in the country's northeast, the Islamist insurgents' stronghold.
Several thousand troops were deployed and fighter jets hit alleged Boko Haram camps.
On May 20, the military said it had re-established control in five remote areas of the northeast where Islamist insurgents had seized territory.
It has also claimed the arrests of 120 suspected insurgents.
A Boko Haram member suspected to be a close associate of Shekau has been found dead, while two others -- one of whom is a Niger national -- have been detained, the military said Tuesday in a statement that referred to all three as "terrorists".
The three men were in the process of crossing the border to Niger across Lake Chad, it added.
The army said 25 insurgents were arrested and three killed during operations at the weekend, including one identified as "Abba" included on a most-wanted list. One soldier was also killed, it said.
"Troops of the special forces have intercepted messages sent to fleeing insurgents urging them not to give up but fight to the end," the statement said.
"The attempt by some of them to heed the call was foiled during the weekend as they were trailed to some settlements and towns towards the border where they plan to regroup."
Last week, the military also said it had freed three women and six children abducted by Boko Haram.
Nigeria's government has pledged to release certain suspects held in connection with the insurgency as a peace gesture, including all women and children.
Boko Haram has waged its insurgency since 2009, with an estimated 3,600 lives lost, including killings by the security forces.
The group has pushed for the creation of an Islamic state in Africa's most populous nation and largest oil producer, though its demands have repeatedly shifted.
It is believed to include various factions with differing aims.
Nigeria's military has come under heavy criticism over its response to Boko Haram, including allegations of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions.