Image: Scene of church bombing in Nigeria on Dec. 25, 2011
Sunday Aghaeze  /  AFP - Getty Images file
A group looks over the wreckage of a car following a bomb blast at St Theresa Catholic Church outside the Nigerian capital Abuja on Dec. 25, 2011.
msnbc.com news services
updated 1/17/2012 7:08:39 PM ET 2012-01-18T00:08:39

Police in Nigeria say they arrested the suspected mastermind of a bomb attack on a Catholic church on Christmas Day, but he later escaped custody in a shootout.

In a statement late Tuesday, Nigeria's federal police say the suspect escaped while being transferred to another police station. He'd earlier been identified as Kabiru Sokoto.

The radical Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for attacks that killed at least 42 people in Christmas Day strikes that included the bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla, a city near Nigeria's capital Abuja.

The group also claimed an August suicide car bombing that targeted the U.N. headquarters in the capital, killing 25 people and wounding more than 100.

Boko Haram was blamed Tuesday for three separate attacks that killed seven people.

The group appears to be following through on threats to continue attacks in a nation overcome by unrest and divided by religion.

Two soldiers who were distributing food to soldiers on duty were shot dead Tuesday, said Maiduguri police chief Simeone Midenda.

Two other people were killed Monday when gunmen invaded their homes, said military field operation officer Col. Victor Ebhaleme. In Damaturu in nearby Yobe state, gunmen from the sect shot and killed three more people from Chad on Monday, said Yobe state police chief Tanko Lawan.

On Dec. 31, President Goodluck Jonathan declared Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe states to be under a state of emergency, meaning authorities can make arrests without proof and conduct searches without warrants. He also ordered international borders near Borno and Yobe state to be closed.

In a video released last week, a leader for Boko Haram said the government run by Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, could not handle attacks by the group.

"All these things you've been seeing happening, it's Allah who has been doing it because you refuse to believe in him and you misuse his religion and because of that, the thing is more than you, Jonathan," Imam Abubakar Shekau said in the video.

Boko Haram has been blamed for at least 74 deaths in Nigeria since the start of this year alone, according to an Associated Press count and at least 510 deaths last year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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