Authorities say gun battle at Nigerian prison holding suspected Muslim extremists has ended

By Shehu Saulawa, AP
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nigeria: Assault ends at prison holding extremists

BAUCHI, Nigeria — Gunmen launched a massive attack Tuesday night against a northern Nigerian prison holding suspected members of a radical Muslim sect, authorities said, apparently leaving some people dead and allowing some inmates to escape.

Bauchi state government spokesman Sanusi Mohammed said police brought the fighting to an end after gunfire echoed through the surrounding hills and pasturelands for two hours. Mohammed said the gunmen, thought to be members of the Boko Haram sect, attacked the prison at sunset in hopes of freeing other sect members awaiting trial.

“The government has brought the situation under control and it is appealing to the public to remain calm,” Mohammed said in a statement.

A witness who hid in a nearby mosque told The Associated Press that part of the prison caught fire and a wall fell down, allowing prisoners to escape. The witness also said he saw what appeared to be dead bodies in the area, but could not give a count of the casualties.

The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety.

Adamu Abubakar, a Red Cross official, said the heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the city of Bauchi, the state’s capital.

“Definitely now, I’m not going anywhere,” Abubakar told the AP by telephone. “The situation is not safe.”

Boko Haram — which means “Western education is sacrilege” in Hausa — has campaigned for the implementation of strict Shariah law. Nigeria, a nation of 150 million people, is divided between the Christian-dominated south and the Muslim-held north. A dozen states across Nigeria’s north already have Shariah law in place, though the area remains under the control of secular state governments.

Boko Haram sect members rioted and attacked police stations and private homes in July 2009, triggering a violent police crackdown. More than 700 people died. Many of those arrested in the wake of the attacks last year are being held in the Bauchi prison pending trial.

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

Associated Press Writers Jon Gambrell in Lagos, Nigeria, and Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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