The Nigerian military has dismissed claims that a man beheaded by Boko Haram fighters in the group’s latest video was an air force pilot in a fighter jet that went missing three weeks ago.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had claimed in the footage obtained by AFP on Thursday that militants shot down the Alpha Jet and showed wreckage of an aircraft which included the Nigerian Air Force’s green and white roundel.
A man, wearing a camouflage print T-shirt and with a heavily bandaged hand in a sling, was seen later kneeling in front of an unmasked Boko Haram fighter in combat fatigues and saying in English that he was one of the pilots.
He appears to give his name, rank and date of birth but the video is inaudible. He is killed after he finishes speaking.
Asked directly about whether the man was an air force pilot, as claimed, spokesman Air Commodore Dele Alonge told AFP: “The man shown in the Boko Haram video is not our officer.
“The picture of a man beheaded in the video is superimposed,” he said without elaborating. “Our plane is still missing and we are looking for it. Boko Haram is just making unfounded claims.”
AFP asked the same question to defence spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade, who announced last week that Shekau was dead.
He said: “No level or amount of barbaric display of bestial atrocities will distract the Nigerian military from sustaining the tempo of ongoing operations to decimate, degrade and bring the remnants of the terrorists already in disarray to due justice.
“The campaign against terror is still recording the expected result in the front. Nigerians should not despair,” he said in a text message that was repeated on his Twitter account.
Nigeria’s military has been under pressure to reverse Boko Haram territorial gains in three northeast states in recent months, with reports that soldiers have fled militant attacks and complaints about a lack of adequate weapons.
According to one security analyst who tracks the conflict, the Alpha Jet sent a signal that it had been hit and the two pilots’ families met air force officers in the days that followed and were told it had crashed.
The jet came down in the heart of rebel-held territory, making search and rescue impossible, he added.
In the video, Shekau is seen on the back of a pick-up truck firing a powerful anti-aircraft gun and boasting about other aircraft Boko Haram has shot down.