Boko Haram has new leader, says Chad's president
Boko Haram has a new leader who is willing to negotiate with Nigeria's government, Chadian President Idriss Deby said Wednesday. Deby added that regional efforts against Boko Haram had succeeded in "decapitating" the group.
Deby’s comments fuelled speculation over the fate of Islamist commander Abubakar Shekau, who has often been seen in Boko Haram propaganda videos but who has not appeared for months.
"There is someone apparently called Mahamat Daoud who is said to have replaced Abubakar Shekau and he wants to negotiate with the Nigerian government,” Deby said.
Shekau has been reported dead numerous times in the past – most recently last year – only to resurface.
Addressing reporters in the capital N'Djamena on the 55th anniversary of Chad's independence from France, Deby was optimistic about new regional efforts to defeat the Islamist group.
"Boko Haram is decapitated. There are little groups scattered throughout east Nigeria, on the border with Cameroon,” he said, adding: “It is within our power to definitively overcome Boko Haram.”
Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have all pledged troops towards a new multinational force aimed at defeating the insurgents, the launch of which has been delayed due to political divisions and disagreements over the right of troops to pursue the militants across national borders. The force was due to launch operations at the end of last month.
"The war will be short. With the setting up of the regional force, it will be over by the end of the year," Deby said, adding that the mission would be "operational in a few days".
But Deby also counselled against talking to the “terrorist” group.
"For my part, I would advise not to negotiate with a terrorist," said Deby, whose country has been spearheading the regional counter-offensive against Boko Haram.
Chadian troops earlier this year helped drive the insurgents out of northeastern Nigerian towns, but suicide bombings and village attacks have continued to kill hundreds in recent months.
Boko Haram has killed more than 15,000 people since launching its insurgency in earnest in 2009, and has increased the frequency and intensity of its attacks since President Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29. Buhari has vowed to "wipe out" the Islamist group during his time in office.
The news of a change in Boko Haram’s leadership came as a huge blast at a market in the group’s northeastern stronghold killed 50 people. An explosion tore through a weekly market in the village of Sabon Gari, around 135 kilometres (85 miles) south of the Borno state capital Maiduguri, during peak trading times on Tuesday when the area was filled with shoppers and merchants.
"When the blast happened, people in the market fled in fear. Some managed to return for their wares but some never came back," Samaila Biu, a local trader, told AFP.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but witnesses said the blast bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which has previously targeted crowded bus stations, markets, mosques and churches during its bloody insurgency.
"Those perpetrating these heinous crimes are callous, barbaric and monsters whose activities will soon become a thing of the past," armed forces spokesman Colonel Rabe Abubakar said in a statement.
Washington condemned the attack and said it would continue to provide "a range of counterterrorism assistance to help Nigeria and its regional partners".
"We will continue to work closely with the Nigerian government and our international partners to combat Boko Haram and assist the many victims of its senseless brutality," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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