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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

800 inmates escape during attack on Nigerian prison

800 inmates escape during attack on Nigerian prison

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen break locks and set fire to prison allowing inmates, including Muslim extremists, to escape

Associated Press in Bauchi, Wednesday 8 September 2010 13.09 BST

About 800 inmates escaped from a federal prison holding Muslim extremists in northern Nigeria during a sunset attack by gunmen, a police official said today.

The attackers, believed to be members of a radical sect, went cell by cell at the prison in Bauchi, breaking open locks and setting fire to part of the building before escaping during the confusion, said Bauchi state police commissioner Danlami Yar'Adua. Four people died and six others remain in critical condition.

Yar'Adua said police believe Boko Haram sect followers freed in the attack are hiding in the mountains surrounding the pasturelands of the rural region.

Members of Boko Haram – which means "western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language – rioted and attacked police stations and private homes in July last year, triggering a violent police crackdown in which more than 700 people died. Many of those arrested after those attacks were being held at the Bauchi prison pending trial.

Yar'Adua said 36 prisoners had returned to the prison on their own by this morning, hoping to serve the remainder of their short sentences.

Paramilitary police officers were guarding the front of the damaged prison.

Police and military units added checkpoints along roads heading out of the city in hopes of catching escapees.

Boko Haram has campaigned for the implementation of strict Sharia law. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim-held north. A dozen states across the north already have Sharia law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

In recent months, rumours about Boko Haram re-arming have spread throughout northern Nigeria. A video recording released in late June showed a Boko Haram leader calling for more violence as the one-year anniversary of their attack neared. Meanwhile, police believe motorcycle-riding members of the sect are killing police officers in the region.

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