YENAGO, Nigeria (Reuters) – More than 1,800 prisoners have been escaped in southeastern Nigeria after escaping when heavily armed gunmen attack their prison using explosives and rocket bombs.
Nigerian police said it believed a forbidden separatist group, Indigenous Biafra (IPOB), was behind the attack in Owerri, but a spokesperson for the group denied involvement.
The separatist movement in the southeast is one of several serious security challenges faced by President Muhammad Buhari, including decades of insurgency in the northeast. Northwestern school abduction and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea
Buhari said the attacks on cities near the oil-rich Niger delta, which are the mainstay of Africa̵7;s top crude exporter and Africa’s largest economy, were “terrorism”. Security arrest escaping prisoners
The attackers had raided the facility around 02:15 (0115 GMT) on Monday, according to the Nigeria Department of Corrections.
“The Owerri Elderly Protection Center in Imo State was attacked by an anonymous gunman and released 1,844 inmates in strict detention,” a spokesman said in a statement late Monday.
Police said the attacker used explosives to blow up the prison administration building and into the prison’s yard.
“Initial investigations have revealed that the attacker … was a member of the Biafra Banned Indigenous Peoples (IPOB),” said Frank Mba, a spokesman for the Nigerian Police Force.
The IPOB wants independence for a region in southeastern Nigeria called Biafra, one million people died in the civil war between the Nigerian government and its secession from 1967-70.
In recent months, regional security has deteriorated. Several police stations have been attacked since January with massive ammunition theft and reports of the Eastern Security Network IPOB (ESN) military forces clash with soldiers.
But an IPOB spokesperson told Reuters the group had not raided the prison.
“IPOB and ESN were not involved in attacks in Owerri, Imo state, it is not our command to attack security personnel or detention facilities,” an IPOB spokesperson said over the phone.
Reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa and Anamesere Igboeroteonwu in Onitsha; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Written by Tom Hogue and Alexis Akwagyiram; Edited by Raissa Kasolowsky.