Nigeria church bomb suspect escapes


People stand in front of the partially destroyed St. Theresa Catholic Church after a bomb blast in the Madala Zuba district of Nigeria's capital Abuja on December 25, 2011. Islamist militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for church bombings that killed dozens of people in Nigeria that day.


Sunday Aghaeze

A top suspect in the bombing that killed more than 40 people on Christmas Day in the Nigerian capital Abuja has escaped, according to the BBC.

Police said Kabiru Sokoto fled in handcuffs after gunfire errupted during a prisoner transport less than a day after he was arrested, according to the Associated Press. Shortly after the escape, commanders suspended the local police commissioner and began investigating his guards.

"In the course of undertaking this important procedure, the policemen on escort with the suspect were attacked by the suspected sect gang members and in the process the suspect [was] freed," police official Olusola Amore said, according to The Guardian.

In-depth series: Nigeria on the brink

Sokoto is suspected to be a key figure in Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has claimed responsibility for bombings and firefights that have killed hundreds since it began operations in 2009. The AP reports 510 deaths in 2011 alone. So far this year, the group has been blamed for almost 74 of deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden,” is connected to other clandestine groups like al-Qaeda and is bent on imposing Islamic law in Nigeria.

Greg Barton, the director of the Center for Islam and the Modern World at Monash University in Australia, told Voice of America that since forming in 2002, the group has expanded its goals.

“Over the years they've changed their philosophy to focus on a more familiar jihadi world view that wants change in the country and sees itself as part of a global struggle. And they've made links with al-Shabab in Somalia and with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Algeria, which is very worrying. So they've broadened their list of aims and it means it's almost impossible to negotiate with them.”

The police did not comment on Sokoto’s arrest at the governor’s compound in Borno state, the “spiritual home” of Boko Haram. Nigerian President Goodluck Johnathan has previously admitted Boko Haram has allies within the government. BBC analyst Mark Lobel writes:

“Police chiefs have accused their own commissioner of "serious negligence" and are treating this as a criminal case. A top state official from a Boko Haram stronghold, when asked if there was collusion between the militant sect and police, said "it would not be surprising."

In recent weeks, thousands have fled the mostly-Muslim north, after the group ordered southern Christians to flee or face death. Several provinces were declared a state of emergency.

For Nigerian authorities, this crisis could not come a worse time. After the president declared an end to a decades-old fuel subsidies on Jan. 1, fuel prices doubled overnight, and mass protests broke out across the country, costing the economy $1.2 billion before a compromise was reached, according to Reuters.