Nigeria’s police said on Saturday they captured a senior commander of the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram in Kano, the largest city in the north and scene of attacks this year that have killed hundreds of people.
Security sources also said that the man police say they caught, Suleiman Mohammed, was known to be a leading Boko Haram figure in Kano. The sect has denied the arrest of senior members claimed by the police in the past.
“We made an arrest Friday based on intelligence reports concerning his hideout and he was arrested successfully with his wife and children in his hideout,” the police commissioner in Kano State, Ibrahim Idris, told Reuters.
“He is now being interrogated by the security agents. He has been flown to Abuja. He is Suleiman Mohammed, a Nigerian, Yoruba by tribe. He is the operational leader of the sect in Kano.”
The Yoruba tribe is mostly based in the southwest, away from the focus of Boko Haram’s violence in the north. The Yoruba are split between Christians and Muslims.
Idris said his officers had recovered explosives, ammunition and guns at Mohammed’s hideout.
Gunmen killed at least 15 people and wounded many more at a Christian service in Kano last month and in January coordinated bomb and gun attacks in Nigeria’s second city killed 186, the most deadly strikes yet claimed by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram, which wants to carve out a Islamic state in northern Nigeria, has many factions and the leaders of the group in Kano often work independently from senior members in its home base in the northeast, security sources say.
The sect’s attacks have replaced militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta as the main security threat to the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, and Boko Haram has gained momentum since his election victory a year ago.
Africa’s most populous nation of more than 160 million is split roughly equally between a largely Christian south and a mostly Muslim north. More than 100 ethnic groups live side-by-side peacefully in most of Nigeria.
(Reporting by Mike Oboh and Camillus Eboh; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Alistair Lyon)