Boko Haram's elusive Shekau says 'still around'

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the centre. (File, Boko Haram, AP)
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the centre. (File, Boko Haram, AP)

Kano - Boko Haram's elusive leader Abubakar Shekau said in an audio message on Thursday that he was still around despite earlier reports that he had been replaced as head of the Nigeria-based jihadist group by ISIS.

"People should know we are still around. We will never cause any discord among the people...we will live by the Qur'an," Shekau said in a 10-minute audio message.

"This is our stand and we remain in our capacity as Jama'atu Ahlissunnah Lidda'awati Wal Jihad," he said using the Islamic name for the hardline jihadist group.

His voice was recognised by an AFP journalist familiar with previous messages he has posted on social media.

It was also confirmed as Shekau's voice by Berlin-based expert Yan St-Pierre of the Modern Security Consulting Group.

Pledged allegiance

Shekau's audio message was released in response to reports that he had been purportedly replaced by Sheikh Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a former ISIS spokesperson.

In the latest edition of ISIS's online weekly magazine Al-Naba, which was published on Tuesday, there was an interview with Barnawi in which he was introduced as Boko Haram's new leader

In March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS.

But Shekau dismissed Barnawi as an infidel who condoned living in an un-Islamic society without waging jihad.

The shadowy leader's absence in recent months has sparked speculation about his fate and whether or not he had been deposed as leader.

He became Boko Haram leader after Nigerian security forces killed the group's founding chief Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, sparking an insurgency that has left 20 000 people dead and forced 2.6 million people to flee their homes.

Boko Haram has been pegged back by an aggressive fightback from the Nigerian military since January 2014, losing territory and its capacity to mount conventional attacks.

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