ABUJA, Nigeria – Militants who carried out Tuesday night’s attack on Kuje medium-security prison just outside the Nigerian capital, Abuja, have freed dozens of jihadists, including the leader of the brutal terror group , Ansaru, according to a number of Nigerian security officials. .
Armed with bombs, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and general purpose machine guns (GPMGs), the attackers, who arrived around 10:05 p.m. local time, entered the rear of the prison, using dynamites to destroy the heavily fortified installation. , releasing 600 of the prison’s 994 inmates, according to the country’s Defense Minister Bashir Magashi, who said 64 of those released were jihadists.
“Most likely they [the attackers] are members of Boko Haram because we have [a] significant number of Boko Haram suspects in custody, and currently we cannot locate any of them,” Magashi told reporters on Wednesday morning. “They all escaped.”
The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), which recently worked closely with Ansaru, later claimed responsibility for the attack and even posted a video showing part of the prison in flames and many inmates fleeing the prison. Militants from both groups worked together to carry out the March attack on the Abuja to Kaduna train in northern Nigeria, in which nine people were killed and more than 65 abducted.
The government has not officially named the jihadists who were freed by the attackers, but three security officials told The Daily Beast that Ansaru leader Khalid al-Barnawi and six of his close lieutenants were among those who escaped.
“He [al Barnawi] had been here for a few years,” a Kuje prison official who was on duty at the facility when the jihadists invaded told The Daily Beast. “They [the attackers] came specifically to free him and his colleagues.
A combined team of Nigerian security agencies had arrested al Barnawi, real name Mohammed Usman, in 2016 and charged him with the deaths of Italian engineer Franco Lamolinara and his British colleague, Chris McManus. The pair were killed by their Ansaru captors in the northwestern town of Sokoto in March 2012 after an Anglo-Nigerian rescue operation was launched. The Ansaru leader is also believed to be behind the kidnapping of Francis Collomp, a Frenchman who escaped from his captors in November 2013, and Edgar Raupach, a German who was killed in a military raid in Kano state in the northwest in May 2012.
In 2013, al Barnawi and his Ansaru colleagues seized two Lebanese, two Syrians, an Italian, a Greek and a Briton from a construction site in the northeastern town of Bauchi. The victims were transported to the vast Sambisa forest that covers much of the northeast, killed and buried in a shallow grave.
Ansaru’s full Arabic name, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, translates to: “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa”. The group announced it split from Boko Haram in January 2012, saying Boko Haram was “inhumane” for killing innocent Muslims as well as targeting defectors.
Unlike Boko Haram, which is known for its indiscriminate shooting and bombings, Ansaru, which says it avoids killing its fellow Nigerians, seems to prefer a more calculated approach: kidnapping and killing foreigners.
The group was founded by Abu Usmatul al Ansari, a little-known militant believed to have been trained by al-Qaeda in Algeria. But his name is rarely mentioned in connection with Ansaru attacks. Instead, most of the credit goes to al Barnawi, 51, another al-Qaeda-trained jihadist who is seen by many Ansaru militants as the group’s “active” leader. The jihadist was branded a “global terrorist” in 2012 by the US government, which also offered a $5 million reward for “information that brings to justice” al Barnawi.
“How can terrorists organize themselves, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”
The order to dismiss the terrorist leader to Kuje Prison was issued on March 14, 2017 by Judge John Tshoho of the Federal High Court in Abuja after he was charged with conspiracy, hostage taking, support for a terrorist group, membership in a terrorist group, illegal activities. possession of firearms and concealment of information on terrorism. Al Barnawi was arrested along with his second wife Halima Aliya, who was accused of concealing information about the Ansaru organization, and five of his lieutenants – Mohammed Bashir Saleh, Umar Bello (alias Abu Azzan); Mohammed Salisu (aka Datti); Yakubu Nuhu (aka Bello Maishayi) and Usman Abubakar (aka Mugiratu) – who were charged with the same offense as him and also ordered to be remanded in Kuje.
Nigerian authorities did not immediately obey the order. Instead, the prosecution attorney returned to court with a request asking Judge Tsoho to vary his earlier directive and keep al Barnawi and co in the custody of the Department of State Service (DSS), the country’s secret police. This request was granted on April 25, 2017, but later led to Tsoho disqualifying himself from the trial after suspects accused him of bias. Nothing has been reported in the media since then, as subsequent trials appear to have been kept secret.
“He [al Barnawi] was then brought to Kuje [prison], another official at Kuje Correctional Center, as the correctional facility is officially known, privately told The Daily Beast. “Since the attack took place, no one knows his whereabouts.”
A DSS official also told The Daily Beast that al Barnawi was not being held by the agency but had been “sent to Kuje prison a long time ago”.
“They [Kuje prison officials] I’ve had it for a while now,” the official said, but did not give details on when al Barnawi was moved. “He’s not with the DSS.”
The way the terrorists managed to attack a well-guided facility right next to the national capital with such ease shows that Nigeria’s security system is under test. A popular local news website, Foundation for Investigative Journalismreported that the attackers had so much free time that they first gave a 15-minute Quranic lecture to the detainees before releasing them and even spent time sharing transport costs with the jihadists they came to rescue.
According to the prison official on duty who spoke to The Daily Beast, the attackers even tried to get into the cell of disgraced ‘super cop’ Abba Kyari, who has been in Kuje prison since March after he was arrested for his alleged involvement in a cocaine smuggling cartel.The officer was held in a heavily fortified cell near the main gate which was difficult to enter.
“They were asking the other detainees, ‘where is Abba Kyari?’, the official said. “It was clear that they wanted to attack him, but when they couldn’t reach him, they left.”
Once hailed as Nigeria’s most decorated cop, Kyari, Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of the Force’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT) until his suspension, was awarded a Presidential Medal of Courage by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 after his team rescued three kidnapped schoolgirls in Lagos. He won the Lagos State Government’s most prestigious award for bravery for three consecutive years, from 2011 to 2013, for successfully taking down high profile criminal gangs and kidnapping squads. But an FBI indictment linking him to money launderer Ramon Abbas, also known as Hushpuppi, who is awaiting sentencing in a US court for his role in cybercrime, led to his suspension last August. by the Nigerian police. He has been incarcerated since he was filmed trying to bribe a drug enforcement officer for a cocaine deal.
Kyari remains in detention despite the attack which destroyed part of Kuje prison but hardline terrorists, freed by their comrades, continue to threaten the safety of so many Nigerians. Their escape from prison exposes the weakness of the country’s security apparatus to the surprise of even the Commander-in-Chief.
“I am disappointed with the intelligence system,” President Buhari told reporters after learning about the level of damage in the prison. “How can terrorists organize themselves, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”
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