LEADER of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, on Tuesday claimed in a video that Nigerian soldiers had retreated from the ongoing military offensive against terrorism and that insurgents had sustained little damage, AFP reports.
The video marks the first public comments from Shekau since the military offensive which started on May 15 following the declaration of emergency rule in the stronghold of the sect, Borno, as well as Adamawa and Yobe states.
Shekau also reportedly called for foreign Islamists to join the fight against Nigeria in the video which AFP claimed was in its possession.
The AFP reports thus: Shekau’s whereabouts cannot be determined in the video, in which he is shown seated while dressed in camouflage with a turban, an AK-47 at his side.
His comments contradict statements from the military, which has claimed much success 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 a state of emergency … in some instances soldiers who faced us turned and ran,” Shekau said in the hour-long video.
He claimed Nigerian forces “threw down their arms in flight.”
He called 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 said 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 through an intermediary in a manner similar to previous Boko Haram messages. The images of Shekau in the video are consistent with those previously released.
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 had also claimed the arrests of 120 suspected insurgents.
The military’s latest statement says 25 insurgents were arrested and three killed during operations at the weekend, including one identified as “Abba” named on a most-wanted list. One soldier was also killed.
“Troops of the special forces have intercepted messages sent to fleeing insurgents urging them not to give up but fight to the end.
“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,” the statement explains.
Last week, the military said it had freed three women and six children abducted by Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s government has also 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 people left dead, 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.