Attackers armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades have launched a series of coordinated attacks in southeastern Nigeria, freeing more than 1,800 inmates from a prison.
The attacks began at approximately 2am Monday in Owerri, a town in the state of Imo, and lasted for about two hours, according to local resident Uche Okafor. Gunmen also assaulted other police and military buildings, authorities said.
“Efforts are in top gear to re-arrest the fleeing detainees,” said Nigeria prison spokesman Francis Enobore, adding that 35 other inmates stayed behind during the prison break.
The coordinated 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 the Nigeria inspector general of police blamed the the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its Eastern Security Network (ESN), a paramilitary wing of the secessionist movement active in the region.
“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the attackers… are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra,” said Frank Mba, a spokesman for the Nigeria police force.
‘Not our mandate’
The IPOB has said it is fighting to protect the Igbo people from foreign armed invaders, but the group denied it was behind the prison attack.
“IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri, Imo state. It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities,” a IPOB spokesman said in a phone call with Reuters news agency.
Police said the assailants were heavily armed with assault weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices during the violence.
“The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the police armoury at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted,” a police statement said.
Several police stations have been attacked in southeastern Nigeria since January, with large amounts of ammunition stolen. No groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks.