At least 17 people were killed in a series of suicide bomb attacks in northeast Nigeria Wednesday, as Boko Haram released a new video saying its leader was still alive and in charge of the Islamist group.
The worst of the violence struck the Yobe state capital of Damaturu, which was rocked by triple blasts that killed 14 people and left 10 others injured, according to Bashir Idris Garga, Yobe state coordinator at the National Emergency Management Agency.
Damaturu has been repeatedly attacked during Boko Haram's six-year insurgency. Last month, a girl thought to be aged 12 killed six when the explosives she was carrying went off outside a bus station.
Garga said the first blast Wednesday happened at a small food store, killing four. Another near a mosque killed one, while nine, including a family, lost their lives when a bomber struck a Fulani settlement on the outskirts of the city.
Yobe governor Ibrahim Gaidam called the attacks "cowardly and barbaric" and urged improvements in surveillance.
State police spokesman Toyin Gbadegesin told AFP "gun-wielding bombers" carried out the attacks between 5:30 and 6:00 am (0400 to 0500 GMT), before the night-time curfew was lifted.
In neighbouring Borno state, police said three people were killed in a suicide bombing in Gubio, some 85 kilometres (50 miles) from the state capital Maiduguri.
State police commissioner Aderemi Opadokun said two attackers "detonated improvised explosive devices strapped on their bodies... killing themselves and three locals".
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's bloodshed, it came after Boko Haram militants earlier this week said they carried out three suicide attacks near Abuja last Friday that left 18 dead.
- 'Allegiance to IS' -
Boko Haram meanwhile published a new propaganda video via social media, in which an unidentified fighter read a statement in Hausa and Arabic, flanked by more than a dozen armed fighters.
"Our leader, Abubakar Shekau is alive and remains our leader," the rebel said.
Shekau himself has not been seen on video since February and had not spoken until an audio message last month where he disputed the Nigerian military's claims of successes against the insurgents.
The shadowy leader's absence has sparked rumours about whether he is still alive or whether he might have been deposed as leader.
The militant speaking to the camera on Wednesday said army claims that some 200 fighters had surrendered in the border town of Banki last month and that hundreds of women and children were released, were a "complete lie".
The 17-minute video was posted under the name "Islamic State in West Africa Province", which Boko Haram has used since its pledge of allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in March.
"Our allegiance remains with al-Baghdadi," the militant said in the video.
- 'Attack repelled' -
Nigeria's military has claimed a series of recent gains over the insurgents and on Wednesday said scores of rebel fighters were killed during clashes with troops south of Damaturu.
Army spokesman Sani Usman said fighters attempted to attack a battalion of soldiers in Goniri, some 60 kilometres by road southeast of Damaturu, in the early hours of Wednesday.
"During the encounter our gallant troops successfully repelled the attack and inflicted heavy casualties on the invading terrorists as all of them were killed," he said in a statement.
"On the last count over 100 terrorists bodies were seen," he added.
There was no independent verification and the army has previously claimed high losses on the part of the militants.
Usman said seven soldiers were killed and nine others injured in the fighting, which also saw troops recover arms and ammunition, including primed improvised explosive devices.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has set his military commanders a three-month deadline to early November to end the Boko Haram violence, which has left at least 17,000 dead since 2009.
But he has conceded that bomb and suicide attacks in urban areas could continue as Boko Haram reverts to attacking "soft targets" in the face of the government offensive.
Boko Haram has also continued to attack neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, underlining its threat to regional security.