An Islamist militant group claiming to be Boko Haram released a new video on Tuesday disputing claims they have been routed in a four-nation offensive, just as a suicide bomber killed 13 people in Borno State.

The video published online and the bombing in the Borno State capital Maiduguri came as Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari met security chiefs in Abuja after vowing to crush the uprising.

The 10-minute message released on YouTube was the first video from the Islamist militants since February and did not show the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

Shekau, who has been accused of war crimes, has appeared in most of the insurgents’ messages over the past three years and his absence has raised immediate questions concerning his whereabouts.

Buhari had on Wednesday taken his first foreign trip abroad since his inauguration last Friday, visiting Chad and Niger, which with Cameroon are key partners in the battle against the rebels, whose insurgency has claimed at least 15,000 lives since 2009.

The video bore the logo “Islamic State in West Africa” and comes after Shekau in March pledged allegiance in an audio message to the IS group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq.

An unidentified man pictured in front of two pick-up trucks speaks with his face obscured by a headscarf and with an AK-47 rifle resting on his chest.

“Most of our territory is still under our control,” he said, dismissing claims of the coalition’s sweeping victories.

“The armies claim through the media that they captured our towns and that they assaulted Sambisa (forest) and defeated us,” he said, referring to the bush land area of  Borno State that has been an Islamist stronghold.

“I swear by Allah that I am talking right now from Sambisa,” he added, speaking in the Hausa language that is dominant in northern Nigeria with Arabic and English subtitles shown below.

“Here in Sambisa you can travel more than four to five hours under the black flag of Islam by car or by motorbike…We are uncountable in Sambisa,” he added, dismissing reports of the insurgents’ defeat as “false propaganda.” Shekau was not referenced at any point, a major departure from past Boko Haram statements.

There was no immediate response from the military.

Analysts have typically viewed Boko Haram as a factionalised group, with a relatively weak central command structure and it is possible Shekau has been marginalised if not killed. But solid information concerning power struggles within Boko Haram has been scant to non-existent, so the current make-up of the group is largely unknown.

By Olisemeka Obeche (with agency reports)


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