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Nigerian court: Life in prison for church bomb

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BASHIR ADIGUN | December 20, 2013 09:04 AM EST | AP

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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A Nigerian court has sentenced the alleged mastermind of a 2011 Christmas bombing of a Catholic Church to life in prison — but for other terrorist attacks.

At least 44 people died when a car bomb exploded on Christmas Day outside St. Theresa's church near Abuja, the capital.

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 the church on Christmas, but failing to notify law enforcement officers.

Sokoto, who was also known as Kabiru Umar, pleaded not guilty and argued that the state 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, 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 state had alleged that Sokoto trained more than 500 men in the manufacture and detonation of improvised explosive devices.

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 and thousands of troops deployed in three northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country.