|Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Cuba|
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) - Nigeria is opening a secret detention center to hold and interrogate suspected high-level members of a radical Islamist sect responsible for hundreds of killings this year alone, a security official has told The Associated Press.
While the facility could create a more cohesive effort among disparate and sometimes feuding security agencies in Nigeria to combat the sect known as Boko Haram, it raises concerns about its possible use for torture and illegal detentions. Nigeria's security forces have notorious human rights records, with a documented history of abusing and even killing prisoners.
The prison is in Lagos, far from the violence plaguing the country's predominantly Muslim north, where Boko Haram carries out frequent bombings and ambushes, said the security official, who is directly involved in the project. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the facility with journalists.
"All suspects arrested will be taken to the center and would be interrogated by a security group" the official said. He declined to say exactly where it is or how many inmates it can hold. He said authorities are arranging to transport suspects to Lagos, Nigeria's largest city located in its southwest.
The detention center was created at the orders of Nigeria's National Security Adviser Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, the official said. Azazi's telephone number is unlisted and the AP was unable to contact him for comment.
Ekpeyong Ita, the director-general of the Nigeria's secret police agency known as the State Security Service, declined to comment Thursday [Apr. 19] when the AP asked him about the prison.
Minutes later, secret police spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar called an AP journalist and said anyone with information about the purported prison should go to the courts instead of talking to journalists. She refused to confirm or deny the prison's existence.
"Whatever we do, we're running a democratic system that respects the rule of law," the spokeswoman said.
It was not immediately clear why the government would open the detention center in secret. However, Boko Haram has carried out high-profile attacks on federal prisons in the country in the past that has seen hundreds of inmates escape.
Ogar, the secret police spokeswoman, appeared later Thursday on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority before the AP published its story. In an interview, she said that a "group of disgruntled people have gone to the foreign media to say that Nigeria has now produced another Guantanamo Bay", referring to the U.S. military detention camp in Cuba.
It is unclear whether any foreign governments have offered Nigeria advice or assistance in opening the detention center. U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Terence P. McCulley, speaking to journalists April 4, said the U.S. is "working with the Nigerian government to help them develop a counterterrorism strategy that includes perhaps a center even to better coordinate information and intelligence that they receive."
But Deb MacLean, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, told the AP that she was unaware of the new detention center and said that the U.S. had no role in it.
Jon Gambrell, AP