At least 600 inmates escaped in a jailbreak in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, officials said, blaming the escape on a prison attack by Islamic extremist rebels.
More than 300 escapees have either been recaptured or turned themselves in at police stations, authorities said.
The “very determined” rebels attacked the Kuje maximum prison in Abuja on Tuesday night with “very high-grade explosives”, killing one guard on duty, according to Shuaib Belgore, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior.
Explosions and gunfire were heard at about 10pm in the Kuje area when the attackers arrived and forced their way into the prison through a hole created by the blasts.
The Islamic extremist rebels who attacked the prison have waged an insurgency in the country’s northeast for over a decade. Their attack on the detention facility freed many of their members who are inmates, prison officials said.
“We understand they are Boko Haram. They came specifically for their co-conspirators,” Mr Belgore said.
The Kuje maximum security prison had nearly 1,000 inmates including 64 suspects of the Boko Haram extremist group – all of whom have escaped, Maj Gen Bashir Salihi Magashi, Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, said.
He told reporters how security officials on the ground did “their best” to prevent the jailbreak. “We are trying to see what we can do to ensure that all escapees are brought back,” he said.
Yesterday morning bullet shells lay scattered around the prison premises while helicopters hovered over the Kuje area as security agents combed nearby bushes for escapees.
Some recaptured inmates lay on the ground by the prison entrance near the bodies of some who died in the attack. Authorities did not specify the number of deaths.
The Abuja jailbreak occurred around the same time that gunmen launched an attack on an advance security convoy preparing for the visit of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the northwest Katsina state. Those attackers “opened fire on the convoy from ambush positions but were repelled by the military”, a presidential spokesman said.
Nigeria’s jihadi rebels have carried out several jailbreaks in the northeast in recent years, but this is the first in the capital city in that time.
In 2021 more than 2,500 inmates were freed in three jailbreaks. At least 4,307 inmates have escaped from Nigeria’s prisons since 2017, according to Lagos-based online newspaper TheCable.