Unknown Armed men burn prison, free 1,844 inmates, bomb Police HQ

…Police command headquarters, vehicles set ablaze

…They threw explosives at us —police officer

…Say gunmen were over 100

…NCoS probes escape of inmates

…IGP deploys security reinforcement squads, sets up special investigation team, SIT

…IPOB denies involvement in Owerri prison attack

…It’s an act of terrorism —Buhari

…I have ordered detailed investigation —Uzodimma

…Ohanaeze Ndigbo sues for peace

Anarchy broke out yesterday in Owerri, Imo State, as thousands of prison inmates from Owerri Correctional Center were freed, after heavily armed hoodlums attacked the facility.

Investigations by Vanguard linked the attacks to failure of the authorities to free members of pro-Biafra groups in the correctional facility.

A source claimed there were several warnings, calls, and ultimatum that were ignored by officers of the centre to release them.

An eyewitness who spoke to Vanguard said the operation started at about 1a.m. and ended at 3a.m. “These men are heavily sophisticated. They came in their security vehicles and we thought they were army and police. They were shooting everywhere and went straight to the prison,” the source said.

Another source told Vanguard: “Some days back, we heard of warnings from the Eastern Security Network, ESN, that their members should be freed from that prison or it will be done by force.

“They even gave them 14 days to do that. What you are seeing can be the result of not doing that. However, you can see that the freed inmates are not only members of ESN. Non-members also benefited from it.”

A security officer who didn’t want his name in print, said the attackers used dynamite and sophisticated guns during the attacks.

“Heavy gunshots and explosions could be heard in the area when they arrived with sophisticated weapons, including dynamite and guns. While some of the inmates in the correctional facility refused to go, others have voluntarily returned,” the security officer said.

How attack happened

Explaining how the attack happened, an official said: “At about 0100hrs on Monday (yesterday), armed men suspected to be members of IPOB/ESN in their numbers invaded Owerri Prisons using dynamites and other heavy explosives, gained entrance and released hundreds of the inmates in the prison.

“The hoodlums also attacked the Police Station, Owerri, while firing consistently with AK-47 rifles and explosives, released some suspects detained in the SCID cells and set ablaze many vehicles parked at the headquarters premises, including the SCID office building. The operation lasted close to three hours.”

Vanguard visited the Owerri Correctional Centre located along Okigwe Road and saw different sizes of bags and even religious books as well as writing materials.

Clothes of both male and female inmates were seen on the road sides and at the front of the correctional centre.

Luggages of fleeing inmates were also seen at Wetheral and Assumpta roads and in front of Imo Government House.

An eyewitness who spoke to Vanguard, said: “The inmates decided to abandon their belongings because they think escaping with their bags can give them out easily and some of the bags were heavy for them to carry and run at the same time, so they abandoned them.”

‘Attackers numbered more than 200’

it was gathered that the hoodlums used explosives on Imo State Police headquarters, which shares a common perimetre fence with the prisons, destroying some parts of the buildings. Many vehicles parked in the premises were also burnt.

A police officer who said he would not want his name mentioned, said: “They were over two hundred boys in their cars singing a song of victory and when they reached the gate of our Police headquarters, they threw dynamite at us and the thing exploded and the vehicles caught fire.

“I jumped over the fence because they were many. When they started shooting, a bullet hit one of my colleagues and he fell.”
It was learned that Njaba Local Government Area secretariat was also attacked, with the doors, windows and vehicles parked in the premises damaged.

The attacks were linked to the hoodlums who broke into the Owerri Correctional Center. The hoodlums were also said to have set ablaze military checkpoints along Onitsha Road and the one around Ugwu Orji in Owerri North Local Government Area.

At press time yesterday, it was learned that one person died in the attack, while several others sustained injuries.

NCoS probes escape of 1,844 inmates

Sequel to the attack, the Nigerian Correctional Service, NcoS, launched a probe into what led to the forced release of 1,844 inmates.

Spokesman of the NCoS, CC Francis Enobore in a statement yesterday, explained that the attackers who stormed the facility at about 0215hrs on Monday, April 5, 2021, gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block.

The attackers were said to have arrived the centre in large numbers in several Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna buses, armed with sophisticated weapons and immediately engaged the security personnel on duty in a fierce gun battle.

“They eventually detonated the explosive to gain entrance,” Enobore stated.

He added that the Acting Controller-General of Corrections, John Mrabure, has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the incident, in collaboration with other security organizations, who yesterday commenced a search-and-recover operation to recapture the fleeing inmates.

“While appealing to the good citizens of Imo State and, indeed, Nigerians to volunteer useful intelligence that will facilitate the recovery effort, the Ag. Controller-General wishes to assure that the security of custodial centres in the country remains sacrosanct.

“He equally directed all officers attached to custodial facilities to remain vigilant at these trying moments in our history. As at the last count, six inmates have so far voluntarily returned to the facility while 35 inmates refused to escape from custody during the attack.”

IGP deploys security reinforcement squads, sets up special investigation teams

Similarly, the Inspector-General of Police, IGP M.A Adamu, yesterday ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force, PMF, and other Police Tactical Squads to Imo State to strengthen security in the state and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state.

Preliminary investigations, according to the police, have revealed that the attackers, who came in their numbers with sophisticated weapons such as General Purpose Machine Guns, GPMGs, Sub-Machine Guns, SMGs, AK-49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades, RPGs, Improvised Explosive Devices , IEDs, are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB/Eastern Security Network, ESN.

“The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the Police armoury at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted by Police operatives on duty who repelled the attackers and prevented them from breaking-in and looting the armoury.

“The armoury is thus intact! The police suffered no human casualty, apart from a police Constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.

“Meanwhile, one of the operational vehicles of the attackers has been recovered by the Police and is currently being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigations,” the IGP said in a statement signed Force PRO, CP Frank Mba.

The IGP, who condemned the attack on the security outfits, directed the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command, and a new Special Investigation Team (specifically set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region), “to carry out holistic investigations into the incident, with a view to fishing-out the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

“The CP is to harness the security reinforcement squads and other operational assets at his disposal to take the battle to the door-steps of the attackers and prevent any further attack anywhere within the state and its environs,” he said.

The IGP, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of the nation, enjoined leaders in Imo State, the South-East and other parts of the country to speak out against the unfolding violence and criminality.

He equally called on citizens to avail the Police and other security agencies with useful information that could assist in identifying and arresting the criminals.

He vowed that the perpetrators would be brought to book, noting that the Force was doing all within its powers to curb the activities of unscrupulous elements hell-bent on threatening the unity, safety, security and socio-economic well being of Nigerians.

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