LAGOS (AP) ― Nigeria’s military has busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who “participated actively’’ in the April mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, a statement said Monday of the attack that caused international outrage.
It was unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the abductions could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive. Boko Haram Islamic extremists are threatening to sell the girls into marriage and slavery if Nigeria’s government does not exchange them for detained insurgents.
Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said in a statement that businessman Babuji Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist.’’
He said information yielded by Ya’ari’s detention has led to the arrests of two women: Haj Kaka, who he said was a spy who also procured arms for the extremists, and Hafsat Bako, described as a paymaster. Bako told soldiers that operatives are paid a minimum of 10,000 naira (about $60) depending on the task, the statement said.
Olukolade’s statement accused Ya’ari of “spearheading’’ last month’s assassination of the emir of Gwoza, the head of a royal family in northeast Borno state, and of coordinating attacks that have killed hundreds in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram.
“Babuji has been coordinating several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including the daring attacks on customs and military locations as well as the planting of IEDs (explosive devices) in several locations,’’ the statement said. “A terrorists’ intelligence cell headed by a businessman who participated actively in the abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok has been busted by troops.’’
In the past week, Boko Haram has been blamed for a massive explosion at the biggest mall in Abuja, the capital in central Nigeria, that killed at least 24 people and wounded dozens; the bombing at a medical school in northern Kano city that killed at least eight people; an attack at a military camp that survivors said killed at least 51 soldiers; and various village attacks in the northeast, including one Sunday in which fighters sprayed gunfire at worshippers in four churches just miles from the town where the schoolgirls were abducted. At least 30 people died in that last attack.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday condemned the church attacks, noting that “no true Muslim will resort to the mindless killing of innocent people.’’ He commiserated with those who lost loved ones.
“The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated,’’ a statement said.
But Nigeria’s military appears incapable of halting the attacks that have increased in number and deadliness this year, killing at least 2,000 people so far compared to an estimated 3,600 in the four previous years of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Local officials reported last week the abductions of another 91 people ― 31 boys and 60 girls and women with toddlers as young as 3 ― in northeastern villages. The federal government and military have denied these latest abductions and there was no way to safely and independently confirm what happened.
Jonathan, his government and military have attracted international condemnation for their failure to act swiftly to rescue the girls seized in April, and refusing offers of help from the United States and other countries until more than two weeks had passed. Now, negotiations appear to have stalled. Nigeria’s military has said it knows where the girls are but fears a military campaign could get them killed.