MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — The purported spokesman for a radical Islamist sect responsible for hundreds of killings in recent weeks in Nigeria has been arrested, the country's secret police said Wednesday.
An official with Nigeria's State Security Service declined to give many details about the man known by the nom de guerre Abul-Qaqa, simply saying that officers are questioning him. If it is him, the spokesman's arrest could prove to be a boon for Nigeria's weak central government, which has remained unable to stop attacks by the sect known as Boko Haram.
However, the same agency paraded a supposed spokesman only weeks earlier who apparently had only a loose affiliation with a group that has splintered and become even more dangerous.
Ahmed Abdullahi, the Borno state director for the secret police agency, told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that officers tracked down the man through signals sent out by his mobile phone. The agency later flew him to Nigeria's capital Abuja for further questioning.
Abul-Qaqa served as the spokesman for the radical wing of the sect, often as a go-between between its leaders and trusted members of north Nigeria's media. He issued claims of responsibility typically the same day as attacks to journalists working for either the BBC's Hausa language service or The Daily Trust newspaper, the two most trusted sources of news in Nigeria's Muslim north.
Abdullahi declined to give the man's name, and it wasn't clear whether he faced criminal charges or had legal representation.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is carrying out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Islamic law and avenge Muslim killings in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
The sect was blamed for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The violence has not stopped this year — the sect claimed a coordinated assault Jan. 20 in the northern city of Kano that killed at least 185 people.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.