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Nigerian Separatist Leader Arrested, Faces Trial

FILE - Political activist and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra movement, Nnamdi Kanu is seen outside his house in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, May 26, 2017.

A separatist leader wanted by Nigeria is in custody in Abuja, awaiting trial on terrorism and treason charges. Authorities say Nnamdi Kanu, head of the Indigenous People of Biafra or IPOB, was arrested Tuesday.

Authorities say Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest was aided by Interpol but did not say where he was intercepted. Local news sources say he was apprehended in the United Kingdom, but the British High Commission refutes the claim.

Kanu was in court for a brief hearing in Abuja Tuesday ahead of a trial set for July 26. He faces charges that include acts of terrorism, treasonable felony, possession of firearms and managing an unlawful society, according to Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubakar Malami.

"Kanu was also accused of instigating violence especially in southeastern Nigeria that resulted in the loss of lives and property of civilians, military, paramilitary, police force, and destruction of civil institutions and symbols of civil authority," he said.

In 2014, Kanu founded the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, which seeks an independent state in Nigeria’s southeast. He rebranded a movement which seceded from Nigeria in 1967, leading to a bloody civil war and the defeat of the Biafran movement.

Kanu was first arrested in late 2015 but two years later fled the country and remained at large, often promoting his separatist agenda on social media and through radio broadcasts from unknown locations.

Human rights lawyer Martin Obono questions the Nigerian government's position on Kanu’s arrest.

"He didn't state what extradition document was used to bring him back to Nigeria so the entire arrest to me feels like an abduction because if you're going to move someone from a country, you need certain legal procedures. Was there mutual legal assistance that was used? So all these are kind of very vague. It raises a lot of questions," said the lawyer.

In June, the separatists announced an alliance with Cameroon's Anglophone rebels, who seek to create an independent, English-speaking state known as Ambazonia.

Political analyst Jibrin Ibrahim said IPOB's demands are legitimate, provided they are pursued lawfully.

"When a political group or an identity group believes it's significantly marginalized, it's legitimate for them to make demands for separation," he said.

This year, IPOB formed an armed security unit, the Eastern Security Network (ESN) in the southeast.

The government's crackdown on the unit has led to a recent rise in tensions. More than 100 security officials reportedly have been killed. Police stations and election offices have also been attacked.