The Boko Haram armed group has claimed that a military offensive launched against it by the Nigerian military is failing.
“My fellow brethren from all over the world I assure you that we are strong, hale and hearty since they launched this assault on us following the state of emergency declaration,” Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, said in a video released on Wednesday.
Shekau’s statement was the first since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on May 14 in three northeastern states worst hit by the Boko Haram-led insurgency.
“When they launch any attack on us you see soldiers fleeing and throwing away their weapons like a rabbit that is been hunted down,” Shekau added, speaking in a mixture of Arabic and the Hausa language common in northern Nigeria. He was dressed in camouflage with an AK-47 rifle resting behind him.
Shekau asked his brethren in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria to join what he called Boko Haram’s Holy War.
It was not clear when the video was recorded, but the mention of the state of emergency dates it to after May 14.
Thousands of extra troops were sent to the region and Boko Haram camps were hit with air strikes. The military has since claimed that insurgents have been halted.
The military intervention followed a surge in violence in Nigeria’s northeast by Boko Haram, which wants to establish an Islamic state there, but Shekau denied he was losing the battle.
The military assault in the semi-deserts along the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger is Jonathan’s biggest effort yet to end the insurgency. Security sources said soldiers from Niger and Cameroon were also involved.
Nigeria’s population of 170 million is split roughly evenly between Christians, who dominate in the south, and Muslims, who are the majority in the north.
Boko Haram and other armed groups such as the al-Qaeda-linked Ansaru have become the biggest risk to stability in Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and second largest economy.
Western governments are concerned that Nigerian Islamists are strengthening ties with al-Qaeda linked groups in the Sahel, drawing on weapons from recent Libyan and Malian conflicts.
The military has said it has arrested more than 100 fighters, freed hostages and killed several Boko Haram members in recent days.
Shekau said only seven Boko Haram members have been killed since the offensive began.
Nigeria’s defence ministry said last week that the armed group had been dislodged but security experts doubt it will be easy to defeat an enemy adept at re-arming and counter-attacking in remote regions where they have operated for years.