KANO, Feb 16 – Suspected Islamist gunmen bombed their way into a prison in central Nigeria before opening fire on the wardens and emptying the jail of its 200 inmates, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
The attack in the central Kogi state left one warden dead and while there was no official confirmation of the raiders’ identity, local residents suspected the Boko Haram Islamist sect which has been wreaking havoc in Nigeria.
“There was a jail break last night. From reports available to us, a large number of gunmen attacked the Koton Karfe prison around 7pm and threw explosives at the gate and opened fire on our wardens,” said prison spokeswoman Hadiza Aminu.
She said a shootout then erupted.
“One of our men was killed and the gunmen overpowered the wardens and broke into the cells, freeing inmates – 199 inmates all awaiting trial escaped, leaving only one inmate,” Aminu told AFP.
She refused to speculate on the identity of the attackers.
“We still don’t know who was behind this attack. Investigations have commenced to determine that.”
But a resident Isiaka Yakub said: “From all indications, the attackers were members of Boko Haram,” adding that there were around 20 of them.
A local reporter said “some gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram sect stormed the prison around 7pm and blasted the prison gate with explosives.”
In September 2010, Boko Haram attacked a prison in northern Bauchi state and freed more than 700 inmates.
Boko Haram has been blamed for series of gun and bomb attacks in several parts of Africa’s most populous country in recent months, mostly in the Muslim-dominated north.
Security sources said early this month they had arrested Boko Haram’s purported spokesman, Abul Qaqa, whom they said was a native of Kogi state.
But a man claiming to be Abul Qaqa told reporters by phone he was not being held and that it was another of the sect’s senior members who had been captured.
Two days after the arrest, suspected Boko Haram gunmen attacked a police station and a bank in Ajaokuta, another town in the same state.
Boko Haram has carried out increasingly sophisticated attacks, mostly in Nigeria’s north, that have left hundreds of people dead.
The most audacious and deadly attack killed at least 185 last month in northern Kano city, Nigeria’s second largest city.
The spiralling violence has sparked deep concern in the international community and shaken the country, whose 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south.
Kogi state lies on the so-called middle belt between Nigeria’s north and south. The state also borders the capital Abuja where Boko Haram bombed the UN headquarters in August 2011, killing 25.
The sect launched an uprising in 2009 put down by a brutal military assault that left some 800 dead. After going dormant for about a year, it re-emerged with a series of shootings and bomb blasts.