The spokesman for Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has been captured after a months-long surveillance operation, a spokesman for Nigerian police said Wednesday.
Security services tracked Abu Qa Qa through his phone even though he changed his location and phone number regularly, police told CNN. They said they’re now trying to confirm his true identity, though they believe that he is a Nigerian citizen.
Boko Haram has carried out multiple bombings and shootings across northern Nigeria in recent days.
Depending on the faction of the group, Boko Haram’s ambitions range from the stricter enforcement of Islamic Sharia law to the destruction of the government.
Abu Qa Qa has been instrumental in linking journalists with the militant group and getting its messages out to a wider audience on social media after Boko Haram’s long-term shunning of what it deemed to be Western technology.
His arrest has provided a much-needed boost to security services, who were criticized for failing to foil the January 20 bombings in Kano, which killed 211 people. The bombings struck eight government sites in the country’s second-largest city, leaving the police headquarters and other government buildings in charred ruins.
The attacks prompted President Goodluck Jonathan to fire the country’s inspector general of police.
Boko Haram — whose name means “Western education is sacrilege” — claimed responsibility for the blasts in a phone call to the Daily Trust, according to journalists at the newspaper.
Further criticism of the police response after the Kano bombings came Wednesday from the human rights group Amnesty International. It accused the “poorly trained and ill-equipped” police of carrying out extra-judicial killings and other violations in response to Boko Haram’s attacks.
“Boko Haram has perpetrated numerous human rights abuses and shows contempt for life, but the security forces have failed to prevent, investigate, prosecute or punish these acts and have often carried out new human rights violations with impunity,” Amnesty said in a statement.
Suspected Boko Haram members who have been rounded up have not been tried, and innocent women and children have been detained to gain information about male relatives suspected of offenses, the group said.
“Investigations into crimes, if they occur, are often inadequate and not intelligence-led,” Amnesty said.
CNN asked the Nigerian government repeatedly for comment on accusations of extra-judicial killings but has received no official response.
The accusations have also come from civilians caught up in the police activity.
“We are in a state of fear and turbulence,” the mother of a missing man and his pregnant wife told CNN in an audio-only interview. She asked not to be identified because she was scared to criticize the government on camera.
Neighbors said the couple was at home when security forces opened fire, demanding he let them in. The mother said her son’s Quran was scattered and destroyed and she found blood pooled by the bedroom door.
Despite repeated requests to authorities, she said, no one has told her where her son and his wife are or whether they are still alive.
“My son is not a member of Boko Haram,” the mother said. “Had there been justice, they would have arrested him and paraded him before a court of law. This is a jungle justice.”
Boko Haram was formed in 2002 by Islamic preacher Mohammad Yusuf as an outgrowth of ethnic tensions in the country in the 1990s. Nigeria’s population is split between mostly Muslims living in the north and predominantly Christians in the south.
Yusuf advocated the institution of Sharia law throughout the northern states and opposed democracy.
The group operated openly from northeastern Nigeria and staged small-scale attacks against government targets.
In 2009, Nigerian police forces moved to crack down on Boko Haram. Harsh police tactics led to an armed uprising and the arrest of Yusuf, who later died in police custody.
His death spurred the group to begin its attacks on police stations. Ensuing clashes between group members and the police killed hundreds.