by Olatunji Saliu
ABUJA, July 6 (Xinhua) -- A total of 443 inmates were on the run while four others died during an attack Tuesday by unidentified gunmen on a prison in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, the country's authority of prisons said Wednesday.
Sixteen inmates and three prison guards were injured when the attackers stormed the custodial center in the Kuje area, southwest of Abuja, Tuesday night, said Abubakar Umar, the national spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), in a statement.
Umar said the gunmen broke into the medium-security custodial center, using explosives devices through the main entrance and the fence of the facility, respectively. One security personnel was killed in a gunfight between the attackers and the security.
A total of 994 inmates were at the facility before the late Tuesday attack, said the spokesman, noting 551 are currently in custody without giving the exact number of inmates that were recaptured.
"A total of 443 are still at large. Efforts are ongoing to recapture all fleeing inmates," Umar said, explaining that the NCoS would deploy technology to track all fleeing inmates and return them to custody.
Earlier, a senior official with the Ministry of Interior said about 600 inmates were freed in the attack by the gunmen suspected to be militants of the extremist group Boko Haram, but half the number of fleeing inmates have been re-arrested later.
"We understand they are Boko Haram terrorists and came specifically for their conspirators. Many of them are returned, some were retrieved from the bushes they were hiding," Shuaibu Belgore, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior, told reporters during a visit to the facility earlier Wednesday.
Inmates at the attacked facility which is less than 42 km to the Abuja city center include convicted Boko Haram conspirators and high-profile public officers standing trial or already convicted.
All Boko Haram suspects, numbering about 64, were among inmates who escaped from the prison Tuesday, Nigeria's Minister of Defense Bashir Magashi said.
Magashi told reporters during a visit to the facility that although everything is under control now, the Nigerian government believed those responsible for the attack "belong to a particular group."
"Most likely, they are Boko Haram members because we have a sizeable number of Boko Haram suspects in detention, and presently we cannot locate any of them. I think they are about 64 in the prison and none of them is available now, they have all escaped," Magashi said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari made a stopover at the custodial facility Wednesday on his way to Senegal to attend a high-profile meeting in Senegal.
According to a statement by the State House, the Nigerian leader was billed to participate in the International Development Association for Africa Summit in that sister West African nation.
Buhari took a tour of the burned buildings and vehicles on an on-the-spot assessment of the havoc wreaked by the attackers before leaving for his journey to Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
Nigeria has recorded at least five prisons attack in the past 18 months, with correctional facilities in the north-central states of Plateau and Kogi, as well as the southern states of Oyo and Imo previously affected. ■