Armed fighters freed more than 1,300 prisoners from a jail in Beni in east Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a coordinated attack that took place in the early hours of Tuesday.
Only about 100 remained following the simultaneous assault on the Kangbayi central prison and on the military camp that provides security to it, said the town’s mayor Modeste Bakwanamaha, who blamed a rebel group operating in the area for the attack.
He said that 20 of the escaped prisoners had already returned.
“Unfortunately, the attackers, who came in large numbers, managed to break the door with electrical equipment,” Bakwanamaha told Reuters news agency by phone.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but Bakwanamaha said: “We believe that it was the ADF who did this.”
Two inmates were shot dead during the raid, which started at about 4.30 am local time (0230 GMT), police said on Twitter.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group active in east DRC since the 1990s, has killed more than 1,000 civilians since the start of 2019, according to UN figures, despite repeated military campaigns aimed at destroying it.
Kangbayi prison holds a variety of fighters including members of local defence forces and ADF fighters. Bakwanamaha said there were rumours ADF fighters in the prison were preparing a break-out in the days preceding the attack.
A similar number of inmates escaped when the jail was attacked in June 2017.
About six years ago, ADF started to attack villages, killing people using machetes and guns. They have also abducted hundreds over the years. UN officials say up to 500 civilians have been kidnapped in the last year and a half.
Several attacks attributed to the ADF have also been claimed by Islamic State, although United Nations experts have found no evidence of a direct connection between the two groups. A year ago the army launched a large-scale counter-rebel campaign against the ADF.
In response, the group abandoned its bases, split into smaller, more mobile groups, and retaliated against civilians.