Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Definitive pronouncements about the group are hazardous, since its communications with the outside world are fragmentary and its tactics and motivations remain murky. Even the group’s leadership is a mystery. The Nigerian government has claimed to have killed Mr. Shekau at least three times, although there is wide disagreement here on whether Mr. Shekau or a secret successor is in charge.

American intelligence officials say they have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the recent video or that the individual who appears in it is Mr. Shekau.

Said to be in his mid-30s to his early 40s, Mr. Shekau was born in a remote village on the border with Niger, in the neighboring state of Yobe. When he was a young boy he was taken by his father for Quranic studies to a mallam, or “learned one,” in Maiduguri, a center of Islamic teaching. “He was the most troublesome of all of his students,” the mallam’s son recalled last week, outside his one-story mud-walled house in a dense neighborhood here. “He was arguing with the mallam all the time,” said the teacher’s son, Baba Fanani.

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