Nigeria's military says it has busted a terrorist intelligence cell and arrested a businessman who "participated actively" in the April mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls.
It's unclear if the first arrest of a suspect in the abductions could help in rescuing at least 219 girls who remain captive.
Boko Haram Islamic extremists are threatening to sell the girls into marriage and slavery if Nigeria's government doesn't exchange them for detained insurgents.
Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Chris Olukolade said in a statement that businessman Babuji Ya'ari belonged to a vigilante group fighting Boko Haram and used that membership as cover "while remaining an active terrorist."
He said information yielded by Ya'ari's detention has led to the arrests of two women: Haj Kaka, who he said was a spy who also procured arms for the extremists, and Hafsat Bako, described as a paymaster. Bako told soldiers that operatives are paid a minimum of 10,000 Naira (about NZD $70) depending on the task, the statement said.
Olukolade's statement accused Ya'ari of "spearheading" last month's assassination of the emir of Gwoza, the head of a royal family in northeast Borno state, and of coordinating attacks that have killed hundreds in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram.
"Babuji has been coordinating several deadly attacks in Maiduguri since 2011, including the daring attacks on customs and military locations as well as the planting of IEDs (explosive devices) in several locations," the statement said. "A terrorists' intelligence cell headed by a businessman who participated actively in the abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok has been busted by troops."
File photo of women during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue 200 kidnapped schoolgirls. Photo / AP
In the past week, Boko Haram has been blamed for a massive explosion at the biggest mall in Abuja, the bombing at a medical school in northern Kano city, an attack at a military camp, and various village attacks in the northeast, including one Sunday in which fighters sprayed gunfire at worshippers in four churches just kilometres from the town where the schoolgirls were abducted.