Terrorist group Boko Haram has said it has set up an Islamic state in the towns and villages it has seized in north-eastern Nigeria.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was speaking in a video released to congratulate his fighters for seizing the town of Gwoza earlier this month.
It is not clear if Abubakar Shekau has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, which controls parts of Iraq and Syria.
Nigeria’s army has rejected the claim as “empty”.
Thousands of people have been killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, since 2009 when Boko Haram began its insurgency.
Gwoza, which had 265,000 residents in the last census, is the biggest town under Boko Haram control.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was speaking in a video released to congratulate his fighters for seizing the town of Gwoza earlier this month
It has raised its flags over the palace of the Emir of Gwoza, the town’s traditional ruler, residents say.
“Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic state,” Abubakar Shekau said in the 52-minute video.
It controls several areas, mostly in Borno state where the group was launched, but also in neighboring Yobe state.
The video also shows about 20 men in civilian clothes apparently being shot dead.
Nigeria’s military spokesman Chris Olukolade responded with a statement dismissing the declaration.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact,” he said.
In his previous video, released in July, Abubakar Shekau congratulated the Islamic State (IS) for its advances in Iraq and Syria but did not say whether they were allies – there is no evidence that the two groups have been working together.
IS has seized much of northern Iraq in recent months, leading the US to launch air strikes.
Last week, the militants sparked global outrage by killing American journalist James Foley.
Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram is to be named as a foreign terrorist organization by the US state department.
The move, expected to take place on Wednesday, means US regulatory agencies are instructed to block business and financial transactions with Boko Haram.
It will become a crime under US law to provide material support to the group.
Boko Haram wants to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria and has been blamed for thousands of deaths.
The group began its insurgency in 2009, and targets both the military and civilians, including schools, and frequently clashes with the Nigerian armed forces.
While Boko Haram’s main focus is Nigeria, the US has cited links to the al-Qaeda affiliate in West Africa, and extremist groups in Mali.
The US state department has not formally announced its decision to brand the group a terrorist organization.
However, the Associated Press news agency cited an unnamed US official, whilst Reuters quoted congressional sources and others briefed on the matter.
Nigeria’s government declared Boko Haram and another militant group Ansaru as terrorist organizations in June, warning that anyone who helps them will face a minimum prison sentence of 20 years.
Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram is to be named as a foreign terrorist organization by the US state department
The US’s decision will be welcomed by the Nigerian government and the Christian Association of Nigeria, which has long been campaigning for the US to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group.
The Obama administration had so far refused, fearing that it could give Boko Haram greater legitimacy in global jihadi circles.
The US is unlikely to identify Boko Haram’s financial backers, when the Nigerian government has up to now failed to do so.
Last year, top US diplomat for Africa Johnnie Carson said Boko Haram exploited popular discontent in northern Nigeria, and the government needed to tackle the political and economic grievances of the mainly Muslim population in the region.
However, Johnnie Carson acknowledged “reports of contact and growing relationships between elements of Boko Haram and other extremists in Africa, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”.
In August 2011, an attack on a UN building in Abuja, Nigeria, marked a turning point as a threat to US interests.
Last year, Lisa Monaco – now the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Barack Obama – sent a letter to the state department saying Boko Haram met the criteria to be listed as a “foreign terrorist” group because, she said, it either engages in terrorism that threatens the US or has a capability or intent to do so.
The US state department later designated three alleged Boko Haram leaders as terrorists, but stopped short of a wider declaration against the group.
Founded in 2002
Official Arabic name, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad)
Initially focused on opposing Western education
Nicknamed Boko Haram, a phrase in the local Hausa language (Western education is forbidden)
Launches military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state across Nigeria
Founding leader Mohammed Yusuf killed in same year in police custody
Succeeded by Abubakar Shekau, who the military wrongly claimed in 2009 had been killed
Suspected to have split into rival factions in 2012
Military claims in August 2013 that Abubakar Shekau and his second-in-command Momodu Bama have been killed in separate attacks; no independent confirmation of claim