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Police capture dozens of inmates freed by gunmen in Nigeria

From Vladimir Duthiers, CNN
updated 5:32 AM EST, Fri February 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gunmen free 119 inmates and killed one prison warden
  • "There were people shooting and running toward the prison yard," resident says
  • Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, claims responsibility.
  • Official declines to confirm the group's involvement

(CNN) -- Police captured 25 inmates freed when gunmen stormed a prison in central Nigeria, spraying bullets and emptying cells in a brazen evening attack, officials said Friday.

The gunmen freed 119 inmates and killed one prison warden Wednesday in the Kogi state attack, said Hadiza Aminu, a local deputy superintendent of prisons.

"There were people shooting and running toward the prison yard and then there was a small bomb and more shooting. Everyone ran away. We all ran away," said Ali Omale, who was near the prison at the time.

The prison official did not confirm nor deny that the attack was the work of Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that claimed responsibility.

Boko Haram --whose name means Western education is sinful --- has been blamed for a spate of attacks in Africa's most populous country in recent months.

Authorities have said the group is behind hundreds of deaths this year, including 211 killed last month in Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city.

Escalating violence has sparked fears in the nation of more than 150 million split between mostly Muslims living in the north and predominantly Christians in the south.

Boko Haram was formed in 2002 by Islamic preacher Mohammad Yusuf as an outgrowth of ethnic tensions in the country in the 1990s.

Yusuf advocated the institution of Sharia law throughout the northern states and opposed democracy. The group operated openly from northeastern Nigeria and staged small-scale attacks against government targets.

In 2009, Nigerian police forces moved to crack down on Boko Haram in harsh tactics that led to an armed uprising and the arrest of Yusuf, who later died in police custody.

His death spurred the group to begin its attacks on police stations. Ensuing clashes between group members and the police left hundreds dead.

Journalist Hassan John contributed to this report.

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