MAIDUGURI  (AFP) – A purported spokesman for Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed Thursday that the group, blamed for attacks including the suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Nigeria, has links with Al-Qaeda.

“It is true we have links with Al-Qaeda,” the man identifying himself as Abul Qaqa told reporters in a phone conference in the Hausa language. “They assist us and we assist them.”

Abul Qaqa has claimed to speak on behalf of Boko Haram on a number of previous occasions. He did not provide further details on the supposed link.

He said “any Muslim group that is struggling to establish an Islamic state can get support from Al-Qaeda if they reach out to them.”

There has long been speculation, particularly among Western nations, over whether Boko Haram has formed links with outside extremist groups, including Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.

Boko Haram has been blamed for scores of attacks in Nigeria, including the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in the capital Abuja that killed at least 24 people.

A bomb explosion rocked Maiduguri late Wednesday in the latest such attacks by the sect but nobody was hurt, state police chief Simeon Midenda said.

The explosion in a desolate area of the city was part of a new strategy devised by the sect in attacks targeting a special military unit deployed in the city to counter the sect, he said Thursday.

“We have realised that Boko Haram members have come up with a new tactic of detonating bombs in places where there are no people and then lay ambush on soldiers who will naturally deploy to the area where there is explosion,” he said.

The group is believed to have a number of factions with varying aims.

Nigeria’s secret police alleged this week that some Boko Haram members have links to politicians following the arrest of another alleged spokesman for the group.

Abul Qaqa refuted the secret police claims during the phone conference, while also threatening to kill a political figure in the northeastern state of Borno as well as attack political party offices.

He issued the threat against Baba Basharu, chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Borno, because of comments he reportedly made linking Boko Haram to former Borno state governor Ali Modu Sheriff.

Basharu reportedly said Sheriff had allied with the group, but then the two sides had fallen out, causing Boko Haram members to turn against the then-governor.

Abuk Qaqa said Boko Haram had two conditions for dialogue with the government, describing them as “implementation of sharia in Nigeria and the withdrawal of troops from Maiduguri.”

A military task force has been deployed to the northeastern city of Maiduguri in a bid to stop Boko Haram, but soldiers have been accused of major abuses, including killing civilians and burning their homes.

Islamic sharia law is in place in 12 states in northern Nigeria, but it is selectively enforced.

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