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Niger Detainees Behind Prison Break Had 'Outside Complicity'

This photo taken on June 1, 2013 shows soldiers standing guard at the entrance of the main prison in Niamey.
Niger's government says a manhunt is underway for 22 prisoners who escaped from a prison Saturday during a jail break attempt by three detainees being held on terrorism charges. The justice minister says the detainees had outside help.

Exactly how the three detainees were able to get a gun inside Niamey's central prison remains unclear.

Justice Minister Marou Amadou says authorities are investigating.

He says "the aggressors clearly benefited from outside complicity." He says they exchanged gunfire with prison guards, killing two guards and injuring three more, one of them seriously. He says authorities were able to arrest the three aggressors, one of whom died Sunday of his injuries.

Amadou says the three detainees behind the incident were being held for terrorism, but did not specify their affiliation.

He says 22 detainees were able to escape in the chaos. Some of them had been detained on terrorism charges.

He says that includes the terrorist known as Cheibane who was convicted the murder of four Saudi Arabians and one American. He says authorities are actively looking for him and are asking for assistance from the population.

Cheibane, also known as Alassane Ould Mohamed, was serving a 20-year sentence in Niger killing a U.S. military employee in a reported carjacking in Niamey in 2000 and four Saudi tourists near the Mali-Niger border in 2009. He is of Malian origin and is reported to have ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

Saturday's daring prison break in the heart of Niger's capital is the latest in a series of unprecedented terrorism-related attacks in the country.

A coordinated suicide attack May 23 against a military barracks in Agadez and a French uranium mine in Arlit killed at least 23 people, the majority of them Nigerien soldiers.

Two regional jihadist groups claimed the attacks as a joint effort in retaliation for the French-led military intervention against them in northern Mali that began in January. Niger has contributed 650 soldiers to that regional intervention force.

There has been growing concern that Niger could become the next battleground against militant Islamist groups fleeing military offensives in neighboring Mali and Nigeria.