MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's military arrested a member of the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram at the home of a prominent senator, as ongoing violence blamed on the sect in a nearby city has killed at least 23 people in recent days, officials said.
Shuaibu Muhammed Bama had been found "in a serving senator's home" in Maiduguri on Thursday night, military spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa said. Musa described Bama as a commander who organized attacks in Bama, a town just southeast of Maiduguri in Borno state.
Those living in Nigeria's Muslim north often take the name of their town or village as a surname. He also is not the first to join Boko Haram from that town. Authorities blamed a Christmas Day car bombing of a Catholic church outside Nigeria's capital that killed at least 44 people on Habibu Bama, a former soldier from the town. Security forces killed Habibu Bama in June, the sect has said.
Musa did not name the senator in his statement. However, the only senator who has a home in the area where Bama was arrested in is Sen. Ahmed Zanna, a member of the governing People's Democratic Party in Nigeria's National Assembly. Zanna and officials in his office could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday morning.
Rumors have always circled that Boko Haram received backing from some political sponsors in Nigeria, a country where politicians often arm militants to rig elections. In January, President Goodluck Jonathan himself said that the sect had infiltrated all levels of government, including the armed forces and security agencies.
This is not the first time a serving senator has been accused of being in league with Boko Haram. Sen. Mohammed Ali Ndume was arrested in November and faces charges that he was involved with the group.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, is blamed for killing more than 690 people this year alone, according to an AP count. The sect wants Nigeria's government to release its imprisoned members and to implement strict Shariah law across this multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people. The sect's attacks have raised religious tensions across Nigeria, which is largely split between its predominantly Christian south and Muslim north.
Meanwhile, hospital records seen by The Associated Press in nearby Potiskum, Nigeria, showed the local hospital has received at least 23 corpses after fighting began there Thursday. Officials at Potiskum General Hospital declined to comment about the killings, though some of the corpses of the dead still filled the hospital's mortuary.
Potiskum, a city 140 miles (230 kilometers) west of Maiduguri, has seen increasingly violent attacks carried out by Boko Haram in the last six months. On Saturday, the burned-out remains of schools still smoldered in the city, razed after attacks locals blamed on the sect.
Boko Haram, which speaks to local journalists in telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.
The killings in Potiskum continued Saturday, as witnesses said gunmen raided the Potiskum home of a former Nigeria Customs Service official and killed him and his son. An AP journalist saw a convoy of military vehicles arrive in the city Saturday afternoon, likely reinforcements coming in to help the soldiers stationed there.
An Associated Press writer in Potiskum contributed to this report.