Peace offer made amid northeast Nigeria violence

A self-proclaimed commander of the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram said Monday that a cease-fire by the group would be imminent in northern Nigeria, though violence continued unstopped in a region where similar peace claims never materialized.

A man who identified himself as Sheikh Mohammed Abdulaziz spoke to journalists Monday in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram got its start and attacks blamed on the group continued that day. Abdulaziz described himself as a second-in-command to sect leader Abubakar Shekau and said there would be a cease-fire as the local government had promised to release some sect members.

Abdulaziz said he and his men met twice before with Borno state government officials and also agreed that "government security agencies can go ahead to arrest whoever they find carrying arms or killing under our names."

"We resolved that we should bring this crisis to an end," Abdulaziz said in the Hausa language of Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north. "We therefore called on all those that identify themselves with us and our course, to from today lay down their arms."

Abdulaziz spoke for 10 minutes before journalists Monday and refused to be photographed or filmed. Borno state spokesman Isa Gusau, later speaking with journalists, never said whether Abdulaziz conducted any talks with government officials. Gusau only said that the government had been "exploring different ways to establish some means of negotiation."

As the announcement was made, word emerged of an alleged Boko Haram attack in the village of Gajiganna in Borno state that left eight people dead. A local resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of angering the sect, said he saw the corpses Sunday and that some had been beheaded. A military spokesman later said he'd heard of the attack, but declined to immediately offer any casualty figures.

That caution, as well as the continuing violence, raised questions about the cease-fire offer by Abdulaziz. In November, a man with a similar voice as Abdulaziz told journalists in a telephone conference call that Boko Haram was willing to enter into peace talks if they were held in Saudi Arabia and involved former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. However, Buhari refused to take part and no such talks took place as attacks continued.

While Abdulaziz declined to directly answer journalists' questions Monday about whether he was the same man, his voice sounded similar.

Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege," has been attacking government buildings and security forces heavily over the last year and a half. In 2012, the group was blamed for killing at least 792 people, according to an Associated Press count, despite Nigeria's weak central government sending more police officers and soldiers into the north.

The violence caused by Boko Haram, and the heavy handed response by Nigerian security forces, has drawn increasing international scrutiny. A Human Rights Watch report in October accused Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram of likely committing crimes against humanity in their fighting. An Amnesty International report released Thursday made a similar claim and alleged that the Nigerian government is illegally holding hundreds of people suspected of participation in Boko Haram violence in inhumane conditions and without access to lawyers.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.