Nigerian military spokesman Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said on Sunday that al-Barnawi was captured in the capital of Nigeria's central state of Kogi. The 47-year-old jihadist from Borno state and his group have been involved in a string of kidnappings of mostly foreigners.
"Security agents made a breakthrough on Friday in the fight against terrorism by arresting Khalid al-Barnawi, the leader of Ansaru terrorist group in Lokoja," Abubakar said, adding that al-Barnawi was "among those on top of the list of our wanted terrorists."
Al-Barnawi became leader of the Ansaru militant group in 2012. The faction split from Boko Haram, and is ideologically aligned to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Ansaru's militants disapproved of Boko Haram's indiscriminate bombing and shooting campaign, preferring instead high-profile killings and attacks on Western interests.
The arrested militant is believed to have masterminded the kidnappings of two British and Italian construction engineers in 2011 and a German engineer in 2012. All the hostages died in failed rescue bids. Ansaru claimed to have carried out a 2012 attack on a maximum security facility in Abuja, killing two policemen and freeing 40 inmates.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed called the arrest "a great breakthrough in our fight against insurgency in the country." A serving army officer in Nigeria described al-Barnawi as "a known transnational terrorist and the backbone of all al-Qaeda affiliate groups in west Africa."
The US government listed Ansaru in 2012 as "specially designated global terrorists." It placed a $5 million (4.3 million-euro) bounty on al-Barnawi because of his " ties to Boko Haram and (having) close links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb."
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected president of Nigeria last year on a platform of improving security and taking measures against corruption.
jm/gsw (AFP, Lusa)