July 9, 2015 / 6:53 AM / in 2 years

Nigerian troops arrest 'mastermind' of Jos, Zaria bombings

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigerian troops have arrested the mastermind of bombings in the central cities of Jos and Zaria this week that killed at least 69 people, the defense ministry said on Thursday.

No one has taken responsibility for the attacks but they bore the hallmarks of Islamist sect Boko Haram, which has been waging a six-year insurgency in Africa’s largest oil producer.

“The highly placed terrorist was arrested with two others who were in his company. One of them was however shot while trying to escape,” the defense ministry said.

The suspect was picked up at a checkpoint in the northeast city of Gombe, on the fringes of Boko Haram’s northeast stronghold, it added.

Last week, more than 200 people died in a string of attacks in Africa’s most populous nation, piling pressure on new President Muhammadu Buhari who is working with neighboring states to quell the insurgency.

A joint operation by Nigeria and its neighbors has reduced attacks in recent months but bombings in the center of the country suggests Boko Haram may be shifting its focus further south and west, towards the capital, Abuja.

Boko Haram has been trying to establish a state adhering to strict sharia law through an insurgency that began in 2009. It controlled an area larger than Belgium at the end of 2014.

Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ed Cropley

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