Boko Haram militants have claimed that they broke into the federal prison in Nigeria amid heavy gunfire and explosions, killing one guard and freeing 119 inmates in an assault marking its growing national ambitions.
Officials said on Thursday that the sect claimed it freed seven followers in the attack that happened just after 7 p.m on Wednesday in the town of Koton-Karifi in Kogi state, just south of Nigeria’s capital Abuja.
The gunmen blasted through the prison’s gate with a bomb, those inside the prison escaped in the fighting, though authorities had recaptured about 25 of them by late Thursday afternoon.
Wednesday night’s attack was related to one Boko Haram launched in Bauchi state in September 2010 that freed about 700 inmates there. The sect spokesman said Thursday night attacks would continue until Nigeria’s weak federal government releases all its detained members.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, wants to establish Islamic law in Nigeria. The sect has been blamed for killing at least 287 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count.
The attack also represents the farthest strike south the group has made in its bloody campaign. Nigeria is largely split between a Christian south and a Muslim north, and most of Boko Haram’s previous attacks have taken place largely in the north. However, the sect’s attacks are beginning to widen distrust between the two faiths.
The authorities appear to be struggling to contain Boko Haram’s attacks on state institutions, despite the recent arrest of a senior member of the group and a crackdown against members in a northern stronghold.
Last month, Boko Haram freed some of its captured members during a series of bombings on police stations in the northern city Kano.