KANO (AFP) – Soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) have arrested six Islamists described as high-ranking members of the Boko Haram sect during a raid in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, an officer said Wednesday.
Acting on a tip-off, soldiers from the Joint Task Force (JTF) on Tuesday raided a hideout used by the extremist group — which has claimed a string of deadly attacks in recent days — and defused five bombs across the city.
“We have succeeded in arresting six high-profile members of Boko Haram in a raid on their hideout following useful information provided us by some residents,” JTF commander Victor Ebhaleme said.
He said the six were being interrogated and gave no further details.
In another part of the city, notorious for bomb and shooting attacks blamed on Boko Haram, soldiers defused five bombs.
“We defused five IEDs (improvised explosive devices)… we believe to have been planted by members of the Boko Haram sect which would have wreaked monumental havoc if they had detonated,” Ebhaleme said.
Troops on Tuesday shot dead four suspected members of the sect and injured five others in the same city.
Maiduguri is the home ground of Boko Haram, a shadowy Islamist group blamed for increasingly deadly and sophisticated attacks in recent months.
It is believed to have a number of factions with differing aims, including some with political links, while speculation has also mounted over possible links between the group and Al Qaeda’s North African branch.
It has claimed responsibility for the Christmas day bombing of a church near the capital Abuja in which at least 40 people were killed.
A key Boko Haram suspect arrested at the weekend in connection with the attack on Catholic worshippers filing out of a Christmas service, escaped from police custody, police admitted on Tuesday, dealing an embarrasing blow to Nigeria’s efforts to crack down on the sect.
President Goodluck Jonathan has said some Boko Haram members are in the country’s security agencies and even in government, including the legislature, the judiciary and in the executive.
The sect has been blamed for intensifying attacks in Nigeria, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed at least 25, but the Christmas bombs at churches sparked fears of reprisals from Christians.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
Christian leaders have warned that they will have to defend themselves if authorities do not address the spiralling violence, leading to warnings from prominent intellectuals that Nigeria could be heading towards civil war.