An execution video released by a faction of Nigerian terror group Boko Haram is signalling the fight against the group is not over yet, some analysts have claimed. The faction loyal to contested leader Abubaka Shekau is seen killing three men accused of being military spies in a footage surfaced on 14 March.
The video follows Nigerian army's repeated claims that the fight against the insurgents, blamed for the death of thousands of people, was over.
Last December, the army claimed it had stormed Boko Haram's last known stronghold in Sambisa Forest, in the restive Borno state. However, the group's contested leader, Abubakar Shekau, denied the claims in a recording.
In 2016, Boko Haram's ally, the Isis terror group, replaced Shekau with Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesperson. The split has created friction among the group's factions, estimated to be at least three.
Barnawi was appointed as the new leader of the faction loyal to Isis, the Islamic State of West Africa province ( Iswap), while Shekau retained his original group, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram.
"[The video] aims to indicate they are still around and not finished. Second, it shows the internal struggle of Boko Haram and the growing discontent within the group," Rev Atta Barkindo, a researcher who has translated several Boko Haram videos and audio messages from Hausa and Arabic into English, told IBTimes UK.
Why was Shekau replaced?
- In 2015, rumours spread that Shekau had been killed or replaced as the leader has not made a verified video appeareance for the past year. The rumours could undermine the group's operation and loyalty of other cells.
- Shekau is known for preferring Boko Haram's autonomy from foreign jihadist groups.
- The fact that some Boko Haram members left the group to form other splinters has cast doubt over Shekau's leadership
"Prior to this video, Shekau released an audio recording clearly explaining the internal rift and defending himself against all allegations, both material and ideological."
Security analyst David Otto believes Shekau's faction might be trying to get closer to Isis as al-Barnawi "has been very quiet" since his appointment, leading to speculations he could have been arrested by Nigerian security services.
"The six minutes gruesome execution style video from the Shekau faction has the pattern and tactics of IS propaganda videos. A possible demonstration that despite his replacement, JAS has maintained loyalty to IS tactics and core values against internal and external government spies," Otto, a counter-terrorism expert at UK-based TGS Intelligence Consultants, told IBTimes UK.
Is the fight against Boko Haram over?
Boko Haram used to control territories the size of Belgium. However, Nigeria's ongoing military operation, Lafiya Dole, and a regional offensive – consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin – have scored some success, with soldiers recapturing key territories and releasing thousands of civilians held captive by the group.
The Nigerian army did not comment on whether the men executed were military spies.
"We are focusing on stabilization and consolidating our counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations," army spokesman Sani Usman told Reuters. "Let them mention that part of Nigerian territory they are holding," he said.
Security analysts have pointed out that declaring a victory over the group is premature, given that Boko Haram is still able to carry out attacks and recruit people.
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 launches 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 more than 20,000 people since 2009 and was deemed the world's deadliest terror group, surpassing Isis in November 2015. Nigeria has also become the world's third-most terrorised country as a result of the group's violent insurgency.