Nigerian security forces are searching for hundreds of prisoners who escaped an Abuja jail on July 5, including more than 60 convicted of terrorism. Security experts say the attack showed that Islamist militant groups thought to be rivals may be cooperating and warn more attacks are likely.
Authorities say two of the of the 64 high-profile terrorism suspects have been captured. One was caught in the nearby Nasarawa state as he fled the capital.
Last week, authorities said it had recaptured more than 400 escapees but hundreds more remain at large.
Nigerian police spokesperson Muyiwa Adejobi said security agencies across the country are collaborating in the search for missing inmates.
“The escape of these terrorists has put all of us on our toes to make sure they’re recaptured and taken out of circulation. We have charged members of the public to be on the lookout as well and we have been able to get two of them, all agencies are on the lookout, not only the police,” he said.
The Islamic State West Africa Province terror group said it attacked the prison last Tuesday night with guns and explosives and freed more than 870 inmates.
But security experts say among those freed were terrorists from the Boko Haram faction, raising concerns about a synergy between factions of the two terror groups.
On Friday, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps in a leaked warning to authorities noted that terrorists were planning to attack Abuja and had declared war on Christians, according to the internal memo.
Chidi Omeje is the publisher of the online newspaper Security Digest. He agrees that Abuja could see more attacks in the coming weeks.
“It’s possible, I think, Nigerians must sit up, the government must sit up, schools, churches, owners of recreational spots should be able to up their games in terms of security and defense measures,” said Omeje.
But another security analyst, Mike Ejiofor, said he believes the terror groups are still rivals, calling the threat of a joint attack a bluff.
“Those are conspiracy theories. The problem is that the various security agencies don’t have the capacity to handle these problems. As election is approaching, these groups of terrorists, the ISWAP… the Boko Haram … they don’t believe in democracy, so we’re expecting more attacks as the election campaigns approach,” said Ejiofor.
Last Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari summoned security chiefs for a national security meeting on the matter. The outcome of the meeting is yet unknown.
Experts believe terrorists who fled have regrouped in a base in north central Nigeria near Abuja.
Nigeria has been struggling to secure prisons. There have been at least 14 prison attacks in three years with over 5,000 inmates escaping. But no prison break has raised as much concern as the latest attack.