Suspected Islamists free 900 prisoners from east Congo jail

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GOMA, CONGO - APRIL 26: Congolese soldiers (FARDC) stand guard April 26, 2010 on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Government soldiers, who usually get paid around $35-40 per month, are struggling to survive and support their family. Some of them are accused of extortion, rape, and other crimes. (Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)
GOMA, CONGO – APRIL 26: Congolese soldiers (FARDC) stand guard April 26, 2010 on the outskirts of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Government soldiers, who usually get paid around $35-40 per month, are struggling to survive and support their family. Some of them are accused of extortion, rape, and other crimes. (Photo by Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)

Armed men freed at least 900 prisoners from a jail in Beni, east Democratic Republic of Congo, in a coordinated attack in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the town’s mayor said, blaming an Islamist militant group operating in the area.

Only 100 out of more than 1,000 inmates remained following the simultaneous assault on the Kangbayi central prison and on the military camp defending it, said Modeste Bakwanamaha.

“Unfortunately, the attackers, who came in large numbers, managed to break the door with electrical equipment,” Bakwanamaha told Reuters by telephone. “We believe that it was the ADF who did this.”

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group active in East Congo since the 1990s, has killed more than 1,000 civilians since the start of 2019, according to U.N. figures, despite repeated military campaigns aimed at destroying it.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Two inmates were shot dead during the raid, which started at around 4:30 a.m. local time, police said on Twitter. Police gave a higher figure for the number of inmates – 1,300 – saying a large number had disappeared.

A similar number of inmates escaped when the jail was attacked in June 2017.

Kangbayi prison holds a variety of militiamen including members of local defense forces and ADF fighters. Bakwanamaha said there were rumors ADF fighters in the prison were preparing a break-out in the days preceding the attack.

In response, the group abandoned its bases, split into smaller, more mobile groups, and retaliated against civilians.

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.

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