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Nigeria captures top Boko Haram figure

By CNN staff
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 0206 GMT (1006 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigeria says Mohammed Zangina helped coordinate Boko Haram attacks
  • The group has been fighting to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria
  • Government troops launched a crackdown on the group January 1

(CNN) -- Nigeria's military says it's questioning a leader of Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group blamed for the killings of hundreds of civilians, after capturing him in the country's northeast early Sunday.

Nigerian troops captured Mohammed Zangina shortly after midnight in the city of Maiduguri, said Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, a military spokesman. Zangina is a member of the Shura Committee, the movement's governing body, and has coordinated "most of the most of the suicide attacks and bombings" in several cities, including the capital Abuja, Musa said.

Nigeria launched a military crackdown on Boko Haram on New Year's Day. Human Rights Watch says the group -- whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" -- has killed more than 2,800 people in an escalating campaign to impose strict Islamic law on largely Muslim northern Nigeria.

In the past, the group attacked other Muslims it felt were on an immoral path. But it has increasingly targeted Christians with numerous attacks on churches, as well as striking police stations.

Boko Haram and other Muslim groups say the north has been starved of resources and marginalized by the Nigerian government. But the U.S. State Department has accused its leaders of having ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network and of hoping to drive a wedge between Nigeria's Christian and Muslim communities.

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

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