The 64 jihadists incarcerated in this establishment have escaped, “none are still inside”, Defense Minister Bashir Magashi told reporters on Wednesday, adding that it was “very likely” that fighters of Boko Haram led the attack.

Commanders of Ansaru, a jihadist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, including leader Khalid Barnawi, have been detained in this medium-security prison center in Kuje since their conviction in 2017.

Local residents reported hearing loud explosions and gunfire near the prison located just 40 km from the capital and the presidential villa on Tuesday evening.

“We heard gunshots in my street. We thought it was armed robbers,” said a resident. “The first explosion came after the shots. Then there was a second and a third.”

President Muhammadu Buhari visited the site on Wednesday afternoon, where the charred remains of a bus and several cars appeared frozen in front of a destroyed part of the prison.

By late Wednesday afternoon, more than 600 detainees had been “recovered” and less than a hundred others were still in the wild, prison services spokesman Abubakar Umar said.

A security guard was killed in the attack, he added.

Prison officials are still trying to determine the exact number of inmates missing, according to Umar.

In the morning, the security forces brought back to the prison, in a black van, about twenty recaptured detainees, noted an AFP correspondent on the spot.

Former senior police official Abba Kyari, detained at Kuje Penitentiary Center awaiting trial for drug trafficking, remains in custody, he added.

– Ambush –

Nigeria’s security forces are fighting Boko Haram jihadists and those of the Islamic State in West Africa (Iswap) group in the northeast of the country, where a 13-year-old conflict has claimed 40,000 lives and 2.2 million displaced.

The army is also deployed to fight against heavily armed criminal gangs, locally called “the bandits”, who terrorize the northwest and the center, attacking villages and carrying out mass kidnappings.

Hours before the attack on Kuje prison, armed men also ambushed a detachment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s security agents – who were not in the convoy – near his hometown where he must go this weekend in the state of Katsina (north-west).

Two officers were slightly injured in the attack and the identity of the perpetrators remains unknown at this time. “The attackers opened fire on the convoy (…) but were repelled by soldiers, police and DSS agents,” the presidency said.

This ambush once again illustrates the almost generalized insecurity in the most populous country in Africa (215 million inhabitants).

In Nigeria, prisons, often overcrowded and guarded by overstretched members of the security forces, are the target of frequent attacks.

Last year, more than 1,800 detainees escaped after heavily armed men attacked with explosives a prison in the south-east of the country, plagued by separatist unrest.