Even online executioners found 'deranged sadist' difficult
Abubakar Shekau's cackling laughter and rambling manner give him more of the air of a psychopath than a militant.
By comparison, the late Osama bin Laden comes across as almost measured. And as Nigeria has learned the hard way in the past five years, his terrifying on-screen persona is no act.
Shekau, pictured, is considered the group's most ruthless commander by far and has played a key role in taking it down the path of all-out war on the rest of Nigeria. While it is the kidnapping of the schoolgirls that has earned him world notoriety, his group is already believed to have murdered up 5,000 people in the past five years. Born in Nigeria and believed to be 40, Shekau is a member of the Kanuri ethnic group, which is spread throughout central Africa and which, in the early Middle Ages, was among the first to embrace Islam.
Today, a minority of militant Kanuri is said to make up the bulk of Boko Haram's followers. While the group originally pursued largely local grievances, under Shekau it has adopted much of al-Qa'ida's ideology. He took over after the 2009 death of Ahmed Yusuf, Boko Haram's founder, and has since stopped all dialogue with the Nigerian government. More moderate commanders who have argued with him have often been killed. Indeed, another Boko Haram affiliate, Ansuru, which has kidnapped foreigners and published videos of their executions online, cut ties with Shekau altogether because they found him too difficult to deal with.
"He is the craziest of all the commanders," said one intermediary. "He really believes it is OK to kill anyone who disagrees with him."
Nonetheless, his tactical skills have earned him a large following, and he also has contacts with al-Qa'ida groups in Mali, which sheltered him in the city of Gao after he was injured when the Nigerian army attempted to capture him. The prospect of dealing with such a man as Shekau makes it all the harder for those trying to free the hostages.
"You just have to look at him to see he is deranged," said one. "He is just a sadist, out to kill." (© Daily Telegraph, London)