LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's secret police arrested an escaped member of a radical Islamist sect suspected of masterminding a Christmas Day church bombing that killed at least 44 people, an official said Friday.
Kabiru Sokoto's escape just a day after his arrest led to national embarrassment and to the firing of the country's top police official.
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati told The Associated Press on Friday that members of the nation's secret police arrested Sokoto in Taraba state, which borders Cameroon. Abati said he had no other details about the arrest, and referred questions to the State Security Service.
A spokeswoman for the secret police agency declined to immediately comment. However, another security official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said officers arrested Sokoto as he hid behind a clothesline at a home in the state.
Sokoto will be flown back to Abuja, Nigeria's capital, on an air force flight, the official said.
Police named Sokoto, an alleged member of the radical sect known as Boko Haram, as the prime suspect for the Dec. 25 bombing of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a city just outside of Abuja.
However, Sokoto escaped from police custody a day after his arrest, an embarrassment for Nigeria's ill-equipped federal police. President Goodluck Jonathan later fired the nation's top police official a few months before his mandated retirement.
The bombing struck just after 8 a.m. as worshippers began to leave the sanctuary after a morning service. A car bomb detonated near the church's front steps, cutting down those leaving.
The wounded quickly overwhelmed Nigeria's chronically underprepared emergency services, filling the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, crying in pools of their own blood. Corpses lined an open-air morgue.
Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the attack and separate strikes that saw others die in two other Nigerian cities. The sect, 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 Shariah law and avenge Muslim killings in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
This year, the sect is blamed for at least 270 deaths, according to an AP count.
Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.