ABUJA – The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack on a prison in Nigeria’s capital which freed nearly 900 inmates including 60 of its members.
Nigerian security forces on Thursday continued to search for at least 400 escaped prisoners who are still at large.
While Nigeria has suffered multiple jailbreaks in recent years, the attack on Tuesday night was the first in the nation’s capital within that period — a development that analysts say points to a “failure of intelligence.”
The Islamic State West Africa Province said in a statement that the attack on the Kuje prison was carried out in 50 minutes by three groups: One attacked the prison’s gate, another stormed the prison and the third blocked the road leading to the facility.
The group said the attack is part of the Islamic State group's campaign to free its members from prisons.
Authorities said the extremist rebels were “very determined” and launched the daring attack on the Kuje prison with “very high-grade explosives.” They killed one prison guard and freed 879 inmates including 64 of their members whom authorities believe they had “specifically” come to rescue.
People living near the prison told The Associated Press how the neighborhood was rocked by gunfire and explosions late Tuesday night.
A worker at a nearby bakery said the explosion “shook the bakery." The attackers “were shooting and shooting and shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is greatest)," said the bakery worker who insisted on anonymity for his safety.
“More than one hour after, I saw many people leaving (the prison) and I even thought it was people that went to enjoy themselves at the bar here,” he said of the casual way the escapees walked through the streets.
Emmanuel Johny, who lives near the prison, said at the first explosion, “I knew this was a bomb and not a gun.”
The Islamic State West Africa Province is an offshoot of Nigeria's Boko Haram group which has waged an extremist insurgency against the Nigerian government for more than a decade.
Since the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in mid-2021, the IS-linked splinter group has sought to strengthen its position in northeast Nigeria and the surrounding Lake Chad basin, though both extremist groups remain united in their fight against the Nigerian government. Their extremist rebellion has caused more than 35,000 deaths in northeastern Nigeria and displaced an estimated 2 million people, according to the U.N.
Their jihadi insurgency has expanded to the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The attack on the prison in Nigeria's capital city shows the severity of insurgency, according to experts.
“For Abuja to be having this kind of attack, it tells you how much our security intelligence has failed,” said Confidence MacHarry with the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm. The attack was “long-planned,” he said.
Nigeria's security forces “could get all the manpower and everything but can’t prevent attacks before it happens,” MacHarry said.
Youssef contributed to this report from Cairo, Egypt.