Soldiers armed with machine guns on Wednesday began securing a northern Nigeria city, a day after a radical Islamic sect set a police station ablaze in what appeared to be an attempt to spark more violence in the troubled region.
Police also said that the feared Boko Haram sect had planted unexploded bombs at a police station and a traffic roundabout the same time another burned down the police station.
Tuesday's attack struck the same police station that was destroyed last year when rioting and a government crackdown left 700 dead.
Soldiers will stop and check all motorists passing through Maiduguri and nearby villages throughout the night, while police will take over manning checkpoints during the day, authorities said. The soldiers arrived late Tuesday night, the first sign of a federal government intervention in a city beset by targeted killings by Boko Haram for weeks.
"The joint military and police 'stop and search' exercise has enabled us make some arrests of the suspects," said Mohammed Hadi Zarewa, an assistant inspector general of police in Borno state. Zarewa declined to tell journalists how many suspects had been arrested.
Zarewa also said police found the unexploded bombs after an alleged Boko Haram bomb attack on a police station in Gamboru, a building destroyed by rioting sect members in July 2009. The rioting, as well as a subsequent security crackdown, left more than 700 people dead.
Police also announced a cash reward of more than $3,000 to anyone with information that could lead to the arrest of Boko Haram followers.
People are "providing useful information on the hideouts and mode of operations of the suspected Boko Haram sect members that are causing a lot of insecurity to lives and property in the state," Zarewa said.
Followers of Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, went into hiding after the July 2009 riot, as police began arresting anyone caught listening to or holding a sermon by the sect. However, officials now fear the group has rearmed. A video recording released in late June showed a Boko Haram leader calling for new violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack neared.
Boko Haram has said it wants a stricter version of Islam's Shariah law in place across Nigeria. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim north. A dozen states across Nigeria's north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.
In September, the sect launched a coordinated attack on a federal prison in Bauchi that held many of its followers who were arrested following last year's riot. The raid freed about 750 prisoners _ many of whom were members of the sect and who still remain at large.
Police also suspect Boko Haram members were behind targeted slayings by armed men riding on the back of motorcycle taxis. Many of those killed were individuals who testified against sect members in open court after the 2009 riot. One attack also killed an important Islamic scholar in Maiduguri, a man who openly challenged Boko Haram in local radio broadcasts.
While President Goodluck Jonathan and others have promised to crackdown on extremism in the country, Boko Haram still appears able to strike at will. An intervention by Jonathan, a Christian, remains a delicate political matter as he looks toward contesting the 2011 presidential election. Federal troops also remain stationed in Jos, a city in central Nigeria that has seen more than 500 people killed this year in fighting between Christians and Muslims there.