A prime suspect in the Christmas Day bombings that killed more than 40 Nigerians in attacks aimed at Christian churches has escaped from police custody, officials said.

Kabiru Sokoto, believed to be a member of Boko Haram, the Islamic militant sect that has been wreaking havoc across Nigeria for the past year, was arrested in the capital of Abuja Saturday after being followed by police. However, he escaped as police attempted to search his house just outside of Abuja, the BBC reported.

Sokoto is suspected of planning the Dec. 25 bombing of St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside the capital.

The BBC's correspondent reported that after being arrested and taken to his home for the search, a mob of youths reportedly surrounded the police cars, pandemonium ensued, allowing Sokoto to escape.

The police view this development as a serious negligence on the part of the commissioner of police and have since queried and suspended him from duty.

The commissioner was not identified.

The escape doesn't reflect well on police as the country struggles to control Boko Haram and their increasingly bloody campaign of violence. Nigeria is a country divided between the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south. The Islamist group, which aims to impose Sharia Law across the country, was also responsible for a series of Christmas bombings in 2010. Thirty-two people were killed in those attacks.

Boko Haram further claimed responsibility for an attack last year on United Nations headquarters in Abuja, which killed at least 24 people.

The group, suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda, tried to claim national attention by attempting an uprising in 2009 -- that ended in a brutal military assault that left nearly 800 of the Islamist group dead.

President Goodluck Jonathan has given voice to concerns that Boko Haram members have managed to infiltrate various government offices and security agencies. 

Calling the unrest worse than the 1967-70 civil war, Jonathan is cracking down on Boko Haram. After 18 months of near-constant militancy, the president has declared a state of emergency in 15 areas and sent more government soldiers to regions in the north, where Boko Haram is active, the International Business Times reported on Jan. 12.

I assure Nigerians that we shall get over it, Jonathan said. We are meeting every day and we are planning. We are going to increase the strength and the capacity of the security services to confront the modern challenges we face.

In a recent YouTube video, Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, defended the latest attacks, saying they were revenge for the killings of Muslims in northern Nigeria.