MAIDUGURI, Nigeria, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, confirmed he was still in command of the terrorist group despite rumors he had been killed or injured and replaced.
"I am alive," the BBC quoted Shekau as saying. "I will only die when the time appointed by Allah comes."
Shekau had been missing from recent video statements by Boko Haram, prompting rumors he had been killed or badly injured and replaced.
Chadian President Idriss Deby said during a press conference last week that Shekau had been replaced by a deputy in the terrorist group who sought peace talks.
In Sunday's statement, Shekau refuted the rumors as "blatant lies" and reportedly mocked a previous announcement by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that Boko Haram would be defeated by year's end.
Shakau took over leadership of the Sunni Muslim terrorist group in 2009 after its founder, Muhammad Yusuf, died in police custody. Since then, at least 17,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram in a campaign of suicide bombings, mass kidnappings and executions, and guerrilla assaults. The group seeks to form an Islamic government in Nigeria.
An explosion in a village in Nigeria's Borno state last Tueday killed at least 46 people and wounded 50, the same day Nigeria's immigration agency said it had blocked up to 24,000 Nigerians from traveling abroad for fear they may join groups such as IS, which is based primarily in Iraq and Syria.
In an audio message in March, IS accepted Shakau's pledge of allegiance, and a man who described himself as IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani reportedly encouraged people to join Boko Haram in Africa if they could not join IS forces in Iraq or Syria.