TROOPS in Nigeria have arrested a businessman suspected of being at the head of a militant Islamist intelligence network that helped plan the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls.
Babuji Ya’ari had helped the Boko Haram extremist group plan several attacks, including the killing of a traditional ruler, the Emir of Gwoza, Nigeria’s military said.
Two women were also arrested as part of the investigation, one of whom was accused of co-ordinating payments to other “operatives”.
A year-long intensive military operation against Boko Haram has failed to crush the rebels, whose struggle to set up an Islamic state in largely Muslim northern Nigeria has killed thousands since it began in 2009. The insurgency has destabilised much of the north-east of Africa’s top oil producer and biggest economy.
The abduction in mid-April in the north-east of 276 schoolgirls, 219 of whom remain in captivity, has become a symbol of the government’s powerlessness to protect civilians from attack.
Defence ministry spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said Ya’ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover “while remaining an active terrorist”.
He said information obtained from Ya’ari had led to the arrests of the two women – one who worked as a spy and arms procurer and another who was described as a paymaster..
Maj Gen Olukolade said Ya’ari had co-ordinated several attacks in the city of Maiduguri since 2011, including on customs and military targets as well as the planting of improvised explosive devices.
Violence has been relentless in north-east Nigeria in particular, with hundreds killed in the past two months. There have also been bombings blamed on Boko Haram in the capital, Abuja. Yesterday a car bomb exploded in a market in Maiduguri and dozens of people were feared dead, witnesses said. They blamed Boko Haram, which is said to have originated in the city. The explosives were hidden under a load of charcoal in a pick-up van, according to witnesses.
Trader Daba Musa Yobe, who works near market, said the bomb went off just after 8am, before most traders or customers had arrived.
Other witnesses said they saw about 50 bodies, and that five cars and some tricycle taxis were set ablaze by the explosion. They said the toll could have been worse but fewer people than usual were present because most people stay up late to eat during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting from sunrise to sunset.
Explosions last week targeted the biggest shopping mall in Abuja, killing 24 people; a medical college in northern city of Kano, killing at least eight; and a hotel brothel in the north-east city of Bauchi that killed ten. It was the third bomb blast in as many months in Abuja, and the second in two months in Kano.
In May, twin car bombs at a marketplace also left more than 130 dead in central Jos city.
President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the attacks.
His spokesman said: “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.”
The inability of the military to curb attacks has prompted international criticism.