900 Prisoners escape from Congo jail after attack

By Mike Ives

About 900 prisoners escaped from a jail in the Democratic Republic of Congo early Tuesday after armed men attacked it, the news agency Reuters and local journalists reported. A local official attributed the operation to an Islamist rebel group.

The assault in Beni, in the country’s northeast, targeted the Kangbayi central prison and the military camp defending it, the city’s mayor, Modeste Bakwanamaha, told Reuters on Tuesday morning. The mayor said that just 100 of the prison’s more than 1,000 inmates remained.

“Unfortunately, the attackers, who came in large numbers, managed to break the door with electrical equipment,” the mayor told the news agency.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but Bakwanamaha blamed the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist militant group from neighboring Uganda that has been active in eastern Congo for decades.

Officials in Congo could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday morning, and there was no comment from the official Twitter page of President Félix Tshisekedi’s office. Tshisekedi took office last year after claiming victory in a presidential election that was widely considered to be illegitimate.

Congo is a vast country where the central government has limited reach, and Beni lies in an area that has long been troubled by violence.

The attack on Tuesday appears to mirror one from 2017, in which armed men stormed the Kangbayi prison and freed roughly the same number of inmates. Local news reports at the time said that perpetrators of the attack had claimed to be Ugandan members of the Allied Democratic Forces.

Last year, the Islamic State’s news agency claimed what it said was the group’s first attack in Congo, saying its soldiers had assaulted a military barracks in the Beni area, killing eight people. Congolese officials confirmed an attack in the area, but said that the assailants were from the Allied Democratic Forces. A 2018 report by the Congo Research Group at New York University said the ADF had received money from a financier linked to the Islamic State.

The Allied Democratic Forces have been accused of killing hundreds of people. In 2016, a military court in Beni began conducting trials of the group’s fighters and their allies.

LUCHA, a human rights group in Congo, said in a statement on Tuesday that the prison break had freed several high-profile criminals who had participated in previous armed attacks. It urged local authorities to take swift action.

“They’ve got to take serious measures to recapture the fugitives,” the group’s statement said.

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