Nigerian police say more than 730 inmates escaped during a prison break in the northern city of Bauchi. Gunmen attacked the prison, freeing suspected members of a radical Islamic group.
Bauchi state police commissioner Danlami Yar'Adua says gunmen attacked the prison late Tuesday, breaking open cells and setting part of the facility on fire. The gunmen are believed to be part of the radical Boko Haram group that attacked churches, government offices, and police stations in July of 2009.
Many of the inmates freed during this jailbreak were awaiting trial in connection with last year's violence that killed at least 700 people. Yar'Adua says police believe many of the Boko Haram escapees are now hiding out in the mountains that ring the region's farming communities.
A senior warden who was on duty during the jailbreak told VOA prison guards were quickly overwhelmed by what he called "a swarm of gunmen" at the main entrance. The warden refused to be identified by name, because he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the prison service.
He says gunmen broke open all the cells and ordered all the prisoners to leave, even those not associated with the Boko Haram group. The warden says he and several other guards escaped through a smaller entrance during the confusion at the prison, which is adjacent to Bauchi's Central Mosque and in front of the Emir of Bauchi's palace.
Reporters in Bauchi say the city is calm with soldiers manning checkpoints along major roads. Police Commissioner Yar'Adua says more than 30 inmates have returned to the prison on their own to serve out the balance of their short sentences.
The Boko Haram group says it is fighting for the creation of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The group's name is a Hausa-language phrase meaning "Western education is sacrilege."