ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian court on Friday sentenced the alleged mastermind of a 2011 Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic Church to life in prison — but for other terrorist attacks. At least 44 people died outside St. Theresa's church when a car bombed exploded.
The Federal High Court said Kabiru Sokoto, 30, was guilty of terrorism and murder. Judge Adeniyi Ademola handed down the life sentence for "facilitating the commission of terrorist acts" in northern Sokoto state between 2007 and 2012, including last year's bombing of the police headquarters in Sokoto city.
He sentenced Sokoto to an additional 10 years in jail for knowing in advance that the Boko Haram terrorist network planned to bomb St. Theresa's church, and failing to warn law enforcement officers. At least 44 people died when a car bomb exploded as worshippers walked out of an early-morning service at St. Theresa's, in Madalla town just outside the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
Sokoto, who is also known as Kabiru Umar, was escorted to the court under the heavy guard of masked and armed officers of the Department of State Security. He had pleaded not guilty and argued that the state had failed to provide evidence linking him to the bombing.
But Judge Adeniyi Ademola ruled "The prosecution has proved the case beyond reasonable doubt." One witness captured in connection with the police headquarters' bombing had testified that Sokoto was the highest-ranking Boko Haram member in Sokoto state, and had provided logistics, planning and three assault rifles for the attack.
The judge also referred to a confession signed by Sokoto after he was captured by officers of the Nigerian Department of State Security. He allegedly confessed to belonging to a cadre of Boko Haram that planned attacks for less senior members to carry out.
"This court found as a fact ... that the accused person was the mastermind of the terrorist act at Mabera in Sokoto state," the judge said of the police headquarters' bombing. The Christmas Day bombing was one of five on churches around the country and the first attacks targeting Christians by the extremists staging an uprising in northeast Nigeria.
Thousands of Christians and Muslims have since been killed despite a 7-month-old state of emergency in three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country.
Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.