More than 1,800 prisoners escape jail in southeast Nigeria.

More than 1,800 inmates have escaped prison in southeast Nigeria after militants armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades launched a series of co-ordinated attacks targeting the prison overnight, authorities said.

The attacks began at about 2am in the town of Owerri in Imo state and lasted for about two hours, according to local resident Uche Okafor. The gunmen destroyed part of the prison walls with explosives, freeing 1,844 prisoners. One police officer was shot and injured in the attack.

Gunmen also assaulted various other police and military buildings, authorities said.

“Efforts are in top gear to rearrest the fleeing detainees,” said Nigeria prison spokesman Francis Enobore, adding that 35 inmates stayed behind during the prison break.

The co-ordinated attacks come less than two weeks after another wave of violence in southeastern Nigeria, when at least a dozen security officers were killed during attacks on four police stations, military checkpoints and prison vehicles.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but police said the gunmen were from the Eastern Security Network – a military wing of the dominant pro-Biafra secessionist group in southeast Nigeria, the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob).

Conflict

Since 2015, southeast Nigeria has experienced the most marked resurgence in secessionist sentiment since the 1967-70 Biafra war. Millions of people died during the conflict, many from starvation after a government blockade on the region, in one of the darkest chapters in modern Nigerian history.

In recent years, as security forces have launched controversial crackdowns on mass protests and boycotts, armed insurgency has grown in the region.

In 2017 Ipob was banned from organising by Nigeria’s government and was branded a terror organisation, blamed for attacks on security personnel and citizens.

Nigerian authorities have been accused of unlawful arrests of Biafran activists and rights abuses. Attacks on police and state facilities have risen in recent months. The groups have admitted carrying arms, but denied the attacks.

Police spokesman Frank Mba said reinforcements had been sent, including “a new special investigation team specifically set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region”.

President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the attack as an “act of terrorism” from London, where he is having a two-week medical check-up, according to his spokesman.

“He also called for the best efforts to be made to rearrest fleeing prison detainees, many of whom are believed to be deadly criminals,” Garba Shehu said in a statement.

Two cities in neighbouring Abia state were placed on curfews in response to the jailbreak. At least six police officers have been killed by gunmen in Abia over the last month, in attacks also blamed on Ipob.

The rise of secessionist agitation in Nigeria’s southeast has fuelled growing tension in the region and a heavy response by security forces and Buhari’s government. – Associated Press, Guardian

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