KANO, Nigeria (UPDATED) – The head of Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists said he supported a July 6 attack on a school that killed 42 people, but did not claim responsibility for the massacre, in a video obtained by AFP Saturday, July 13.
“We fully support the attack on this Western education school in Mamudo,” in northern Yobe state, Abubakar Shekau said in the 10-minute video speech.
The mostly Hausa language message shows Shekau, designated a global terrorist by the United States, kneeling on mat with a Kalashnikov resting on his left shoulder.
He speaks in English for several seconds towards the end of the video, something he has not done in recent public messages.
The early morning gun and bomb attack at a boarding school in the Mamudo district of Yobe saw assailants round up students and staff in a dormitory before throwing explosives inside and opening fire, according to witnesses.
Almost all of those killed were students. It was the third school attack in recent weeks and the second in Yobe.
On June 16, gunmen opened fire on a secondary school in Damaturu, Yobe’s capital, killing seven students and two teachers.
Shekau voiced similar support the Damaturu attack, describing all “Western education schools” as a “plot against Islam”.
He however stopped short of claiming to have ordered the killings.
“We don’t attack students,” he said in the video that was delivered to AFP in a manner consistent with previous statements from the Islamist leader.
Roughly translated, Boko Haram means “Western education is sin,” and the insurgents have been blamed for previous raids on schools, with some analysts suggesting the group has selected shocking targets to generate attention.
Yobe state was one of three areas placed under a state of emergency in May ahead of a sweeping military offensive against Boko Haram.
The military has claimed significant gains in the two-month-old offensive, but such boasts have been difficult to verify and Boko Haram attacks have continued in some places.
Shekau, in the message, also denied reports that the Islamist extremists had entered into ceasefire negotiations with the government.
This week, a federal cabinet minister and head of a panel tasked with talking to the insurgents claimed he was negotiating with a legitimate Shekau deputy and that a ceasefire deal was at hand.
“The claim that we have entered into a truce with the government of Nigeria is not true,” the wanted Islamist leader said.
Nigeria’s Minister for Special Duties Kabiru Tanimu Turaki told journalists that he was negotiating with Shekau’s “second in command”, and reports of a looming ceasefire filled the front pages of Nigeria’s newspapers.
“We don’t know Kabiru Turaki. We have never spoken with him. He is lying,” Shekau said.
Nigeria’s government and military have regularly been accused of spreading false information regarding the insurgency.
Boko Haram has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria and Shekau restated the demand for a nation governed by sharia (Islamic law) in his latest message.
Last month the United States placed a $7.0 million (5.3 million euros) bounty on Shekau.
He is believed to be the leader of Boko Haram’s hardline Islamist faction, but most analysts believe the group is made up of various camps.
The insurgency has cost 3,600 lives since 2009, including killings by the security services.
Nigeria’s is Africa’s most populous country and top oil producer, where acute poverty remains rampant despite the massive oil wealth.
Local and Western analysts have long argued that improving living conditions in the mainly Muslim north is key to curbing the insurgency.