Nigeria quizzes Boko Haram spokesperson

2012-02-02 14:07

Abuja - Nigerian authorities on Thursday questioned a man believed to be a spokesman for Islamist group Boko Haram after his arrest as security forces seek to stop a wave of attacks blamed on the extremists.

Several security sources said on Wednesday that a suspect believed to be the person who goes by the alias Abul Qaqa had been arrested, but authorities have not officially confirmed his detention or his identity.

One security source said he was flown to the capital Abuja on Wednesday and was undergoing questioning there.

"He is under interrogation," the security source in the capital said on condition of anonymity on Thursday morning, declining to provide further details.

Meanwhile, the country's recently appointed police chief Mohammed D Abubakar was expected in Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city hit by co-ordinated bombings and shootings on January 20 that left at least 185 people dead.

President Goodluck Jonathan, under immense pressure over the government's failure to stop attacks blamed on Boko Haram, sacked police chief Hafiz Ringim and all Ringim's deputies on January 25.

There was heavy security in Kano ahead of Abubakar's expected visit, including a helicopter that hovered overhead.

The man who goes by the name Abul Qaqa has claimed to speak on behalf of Boko Haram on numerous occasions.

Differing versions

He has claimed responsibility for scores of attacks in Nigeria, including the Kano violence, the group's deadliest attack yet.

The purported spokesperson has regularly held phone conferences with journalists in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, Boko Haram's base.

Differing versions of the arrest emerged, with one source saying he had been detained in the northern city of Kaduna early on Wednesday and others saying it occurred in a raid in Maiduguri on Tuesday.

A secret police source said "he was tracked down using state of the art tracking equipment".

Local media reported that agents used GPS to track him and that the suspect was from the Igala ethnic group in central Kogi state.

Marilyn Ogar, a spokesperson for the secret police, did not respond to phone calls on Thursday, but on Wednesday night said she could not confirm any arrest.

"When you have an ongoing operation, a lot of people are brought in, and until you are able to put a face to a name ...," nothing can be confirmed, Ogar said. "My office has not confirmed to me that they have him."

Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated attacks, mostly in Nigeria's north, that have left hundreds of people dead.

The spiralling violence has sparked deep concern in the international community and shaken the country, whose 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.

Intense speculation

There has been intense speculation over whether Boko Haram has formed links with outside extremist groups, including al-Qaeda's north African branch.

Diplomats say some Boko Haram members have sought training abroad but that there is no proof of operational links with foreign extremists and that the group remains domestically focused.

Analysts say the violence has been fed by deep poverty in the north, where masses of unemployed youths have little trust in government or hope for the future in a country long considered one of the world's most corrupt.

Boko Haram has mainly targeted police stations and other symbols of authority. Christians have also been killed, including in a wave of bomb blasts on Christmas day, but Muslims have been victims of attacks as well.

The group has also claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of the UN headquarters in Abuja which killed at least 25 people.

It launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault that left some 800 dead. After going dormant for about a year, it re-emerged with a series of shootings and bomb blasts.