(Updates with army comment on killings in fifth paragraph.)
Feb. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Nigerian security forces arrested the alleged spokesman of a militant Islamist group blamed for bombings and gun attacks that have killed hundreds of people this year in Africa’s top oil producer.
“We’ve arrested Abu Qaqa, the so-called spokesman of the Boko Haram sect and one of its leaders,” Ahmed Abdullahi, director of the State Security Service, or SSS, in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, said yesterday by phone.
A joint operation by agents from the SSS, a plain clothes unit charged with state security, and the military led to Qaqa’s capture yesterday in Maiduguri, Abdullahi said, changing an earlier statement the arrest was made in the city of Kaduna. He gave no further details.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is a sin,” wants to impose Shariah rule in Nigeria’s north. It claimed responsibility for blasts that struck eight government buildings on Jan. 20 in Kano, the biggest city in northern Nigeria, killing at least 256 people, according to rights group Civil Rights Congress. Police put the death toll at 184.
In their latest attack, the group hacked to death with machetes overnight six people suspected to be fellow members, Hassan Mohammed, a spokesman for the army’s Joint Task Force in the region, told reporters today in the city.
“The killing may have been a result of division among sect members,” he said.
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Victor Ebhaleme, a spokesman for the military task force in northern Nigeria, said the arrest of Qaqa showed that “our collective efforts are paying off.”
Multiple bomb blasts hit Maiduguri in attacks carried out by suspected Boko Haram militants early today, Ebhaleme said today by phone. No casualties were reported from the blasts, he said.
Nigeria is roughly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. More than 14,000 people died in ethnic and religious clashes in the West African nation between 1999 and 2009, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Boko Haram wants to impose sharia rule in Nigeria’s north.
The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a church near Abuja, the capital, on Christmas Day that killed 43 people, and the Aug. 26 suicide-bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja that left 24 dead.
--With assistance from Maram Mazen in Abuja. Editors: Dulue Mbachu, Karl Maier, Digby Lidstone
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