Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram– now known as the Islamic State West Africa Province– released a new video this week showing off new weapons and graphically depicting the beheading of a Nigerian policeman. The new Boko Haram video’s production value seems to indicate it was produced with help from ISIS, and leader Abubakar Shekau’s absence once again is raising questions.
The video features an unidentified jihadist as spokesman, showing the camera various weapons and battle tanks, and insisting that Boko Haram has expanded its influence out of the Sambisa Forest in northeast Nigeria into other territories and other countries. “The tawaghit said they drove us out to Sambisa,” the spokesman says, referring to the Nigerian military. “Everyone knows that this place here is not Sambisa. We are still present everywhere we had been before.”
Many news outlets have noted Abubakar Shekau’s absence, as the group has released several videos since the last time any mention of Shekau appeared in official Boko Haram propaganda. As the BBC notes, Shekau last appeared in a Boko Haram audio report in March, where he confirmed that the group had become an official satellite of the Islamic State. Since that announcement, no indication of where Shekau is, or whether he is alive, has surfaced. The BBC notes that several theories, varying from death to deep hiding, are circulating.
Boko Haram did not officially change its name to Islamic State West Africa Province until one month after the Shekau audio tape, in April, long after the last evidence that Shekau was alive surfaced.
The new video, in which Boko Haram terrorists vow to keep fighting, also follows news that a faction of hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists are looking to negotiate peace talks with the government, and put down their weapons in exchange for impunity. The Nigerian government of President Muhammadu Buhari said in early July that they “can’t rule out” peace talks with the group, though government spokesman Femi Adesina applied extreme skepticism to the possibility that such talks would work out if attempted. By the end of the month, a report began to circulate in Nigerian media that a group of up to five hundreds jihadists were looking to talk to the government about potentially putting an end to their violence.
Today, another such report has surfaced. In Nigeria’s Daily Post, sources claim that members of Boko Haram “have made several calls to the Centre claiming that hundreds of their members who were worn out and hold contrary view to the destructive and murderous activities of the terrorist organization were willing to lay down their arms for amnesty.” Some of these sources went on the record. Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, the Execautive Secretary of the Centre for Crisis Communication, told the newspaper that these contacts have been “encouraging” to the government,and “We have taken measures also to ascertain the genuineness or otherwise of these persons. We believe they are ready for genuine dialogue.”