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Top Suspect in Nigerian Christmas Bombing Escapes Police

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Nigerian authorities say their top suspect in a deadly Christmas Day bombing at a Catholic church in the capital, Abuja, has escaped police custody after being arrested at the Borno state governor's mansion in the capital.

A police statement Tuesday said the suspect, Kabiru Sokoto, was being escorted to another police station outside of Abuja when "suspected gang members" attacked and freed him. The police commissioner who ordered the transfer has been suspended, and police say they are investigating the incident.

They have promised a criminal investigation if warranted.

Tuesday in the Nigerian newspaper The Nation, the Borno State Commissioner for Information, Inuwa Bwala, said the incident could be evidence that sympathizers of radical group Boko Haram have infiltrated government security agencies.

President Goodluck Jonathan voiced similar concerns earlier this month.

The Christmas Day bombing was one of a series of coordinated attacks that day that killed at least 39 people. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for that attack and several others.

Nigeria has seen escalating violence between Christians and Muslims. President Jonathan recently declared a state of emergency in 15 areas as part of his response to the unrest. The president also has deployed extra troops to the north, but attacks have continued.

Authorities blame Boko Haram for hundreds of deaths in bombings and shootings over the past 18 months.

The group is said to want wider implementation of Sharia, or Islamic law, across Nigeria. It recently warned Christians in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria to leave the area.

U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay last week called on Nigerian political and religious leaders to conduct joint efforts to halt sectarian violence in the country. Pillay said it is especially important for Muslim and Christian leaders to "condemn all violence," including retaliatory attacks.

Attacks Claimed by Boko Haram

July 2009 - Attacks and clashes in Bauchi and Maiduguri leave 800 people dead.
December 2010 - Bombings in central Nigeria and church attacks in the northeast kill 86 people.
June 16, 2011 - Car bomb kills two outside police headquarters in Abuja.
June 26, 2011 - Attack on a bar in Maiduguri kills 25 people.
August 25, 2011 - Attacks on a police station in Gombi and two banks leave 12 people dead.
August 26, 2011 - Suicide bomber kills 23 people at the U.N. building in Abuja.
November 4, 2011 - Bombings in Damaturu and Potiskum kill 65 people.
December 25, 2011 - Christmas Day bombings across Nigeria kill 39 people.
January 10, 2011 - Gunmen open fire on a bar in Yobe state, killing eight people.

Article by VOA News