The fight against Nigeria-based terror group Boko Haram will continue in spite of the apparent demise of the group's leader, the defence ministry told IBTimes UK. The comments were made as Abubakar Shekau appeared in a seven-minute-long video after months of silence, dismissing claims that he had been killed and replaced as head of the terrorist group.
The leader, however, appeared emaciated and dejected and lacked the usual vigour typical of previous video messages. After confirming that he was well and alive, Shekau added: "This is my desire: that whoever sees this will hear nothing but greetings between me and you. Only Allah knows the rest, as you believed (and) as you submitted. For me the end has come. This is only the message I want to send to you for you to understand that this is certainly I. This is why I did this."
Some have pointed out the video might be signalling Shekau will no longer head the insurgency, which has led to the death of thousands in northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorists?
Boko Haram, which has renamed itself Iswap, fights against Western influence in Nigeria and aims to impose its version of Sharia law throughout occupied territories.
The group carries out attacks in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in a bid to take control of more territory. Three Nigerian states − Adamawa,Borno and Yobe − have been under a state of emergency since May 2013.
Boko Haram has killed 20,000 people since 2009 and was deemed the world's deadliest terror group, surpassing its ally, Islamic State (Isis), in November 2015.
Nigeria has become the third most terrorised country as a result of the group's violent insurgency.
However, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, Nigeria's director of defence information, said the military's strategy against the terrorists will not change until the last Boko Haram member surrenders and people held captive are released. He said: "We are not fighting Shekau, we are fighting against Boko Haram. The military is not concerned or bothered about what Shekau said. Whether he is quitting or not, the offensive will continue until there are no Boko Haram remnants left. We will not leave any stone unturned."
Nigeria is leading a regional offensive with 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin lined up against the terrorists. Although the government has claimed several times the fight against the terrorists has been "technically" won, some analysts warned the group is still deadly and able to inflict major casualties on civilians and the military.
"The efforts of the offensive are consolidated and there have been multiple victories. We are doing our best to terminate the insurgency and our best will always be the best," Abubakar added.
Boko Haram's ideology beyond Shekau
Some analysts have also pointed out that Boko Haram's insurgency would not be affected should Shekau be killed or replaced. David Otto, CEO of UK-based global security provider TGS Intelligence Consultants, told IBTimes UK the group's ideology goes beyond its leadership.
"The goal and ideology of groups like Iswap or Isil [the Islamic State] is beyond one man and definitely beyond Shakau. If you look recent terrorists attacks globally, there is no mention of or on behalf of leadership – rather an emphasis on ideology and the believe in getting rid of anyone standing on their way to achieve a Caliphate irrespective of their religion or race. This video is simply a distraction not worth any attention."