After dividing themselves into three squads, more than a hundred gunmen stormed a Nigerian prison, using explosives to blast though a wall and free dozens of jailed jihadists.
But the assault did not take place in some remote town in the country’s violence-torn northeast.
Instead, the raid unfolded just 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the residence of President Muhammadu Buhari and 20 kilometres from the capital’s international airport.
As brazen as it was sophisticated, the attack is a humiliation for Nigeria’s security forces, analysts say. They see it as a sign of the jihadists’ growing ability to threaten regions beyond the northeast, the heartland of a 13-year insurgency.
The July 5 assault, claimed by IS affiliate ISWAP, targeted Kuje Prison, a medium-security jail on the outskirts of Abuja.
“The attack… represents a monumental failure in intelligence-gathering,” Nigeria risk group SBM Intelligence said.
“Kuje, in particular, sends a clear message from ISWAP: they are capable of hitting Abuja at will,” the group said in a statement.
The raid happened hours after bandit gunmen ambushed a presidential convoy of staff preparing for Buhari’s visit to his home state of Katsina, in another illustration of Nigeria’s security crisis.
The country’s multiple conflicts, from jihadists and bandit militias to separatists, will be a major part of the February 2023 election to replace Buhari – a former army commander whose rise to power was partly based on his image as a strongman.
In the Kuje attack, residents reported blasts and gunfire shortly after 10 pm. The gunmen engaged prison guards in a firefight, another group went to free comrades while a third secured the perimeter and burned security vehicles outside, prison and security officials said.
“They came in their numbers, they divided themselves into three,” correction services spokesman Abubakar Umar said.
The attack freed hundreds of inmates from the general population – many of whom were recaptured – as well as dozens of jailed jihadists, prison authorities said.
Corrections services on Friday released wanted pictures of 69 individuals jailed on terrorism charges, prompting Ghana to warn its immigration officials of attempts by Nigerian escapees to enter the country.
Members of the al-Qaeda-allied Ansaru militant group were also in the prison. Visiting the prison briefly last week, Buhari himself asked how such an attack could happen. The Nigerian leader has been under growing pressure over the overstretched military’s response to the insecurity.
- An AFP report