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Recaptured inmates return to Nigerian prison after suspected jihadist attack

Recaptured inmates are seen inside a prison vehicle in Abuja, Nigeria on July 6, 2022, after suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Kuje Medium Prison.   -  
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KOLA SULAIMON/AFP or licensors -

Nigeria

Recaptured inmates who escaped a medium-security prison on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital, Abuja, have been returned to the prison.

Suspected Boko Haram jihadists used guns and explosives to blast their way into Kuje prison on Tuesday night, freeing dozens of their jailed comrades and hundreds of other inmates. 

A local resident describes the atmosphere during the jailbreak, saying "at first we thought it was the vigilantes".

The brazen attack came just hours after an ambush on a presidential security convoy in the northwest, in a startling illustration of Nigeria's security challenges.

Residents reported a series of loud explosions and gunfire late Tuesday around the Kuje medium-security prison just 40 kilometres away from the capital and the Aso Rock presidential villa.

Disappointment with intelligence

President Muhammadu Buhari briefly visited the prison on Wednesday, where the burnt-out wreckage of a bus and cars marked the scene of the attack.

"I am disappointed with the intelligence system. How can terrorists organise, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?" Buhari said in a statement after the visit.

The Nigerian leader, who has been under pressure over the country's security challenges, was due to leave on an official trip to Senegal soon after the prison visit.

One security official was killed when the gunmen breached the jail using high-grade explosives.

Close to 600 out of the prisons' 900 inmates had been recaptured by Wednesday evening, while less than 100 were still on the run, according to Nigeria's correctional services spokesman Abubakar Umar said.

Boko Haram is one of the jihadist groups involved in Nigeria's grinding 13-year conflict in the country's northeast.

Nigerian officials sometimes also use "Boko Haram" as a general phrase to refer to jihadists or other armed groups.

Jihadists all escaped

Defence Minister Bashir Magashi told reporters that Boko Haram militants had "mostly likely" carried out the attack and that all 64 jailed jihadists in the prison had escaped.

"None of them are inside the prison, they have all escaped," he said.

Commanders of another jihadist group Ansaru, including the group's chief Khalid Barnawi, had also been kept in Kuje prison since their conviction in 2017.

"We heard shooting on my street. We thought it was armed robbers," one local Kuje resident said. "The first explosion came after the shooting. Then a second one sounded and then a third."

Some prisoners of the 879 inmates who had fled surrendered while others were recaptured with military roadblocks set up around the penitentiary.

Security forces sent back around 19 recaptured inmates in a black van on Wednesday morning.

Former top police commander Abba Kyari, who was being held in Kuje awaiting trial in a high-profile drug smuggling case, was still in custody, Umar said.

Prison attacks

Nigeria's security forces are battling Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) jihadists in the country's northeast, where the conflict has killed 40,000 people and displaced 2.2 million more.

Attacks on prisons in Nigeria have happened in the past, with gunmen seeking to free inmates.

More than 1,800 prisoners escaped last year after heavily armed men attacked a prison in southeast Nigeria using explosives.

The attackers blasted their way into the Owerri prison in Imo state, engaging guards in a gun battle before storming the prison. Imo state lies in a region that is a hotbed for separatist groups.

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