A feared militia on Tuesday attacked a prison in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), freeing hundreds of inmates, local officials and police said, as the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the predawn assault.
Two prisoners were shot dead during the breakout from the Kangbayi Central Prison in Beni at about 4:30am, police wrote on Twitter, blaming the attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
Beni Acting Mayor Modeste Muhindo Bwakanamaha also attributed the attack to the ADF, which originated in the 1990s as a Ugandan Muslim rebel group and has been accused of killing more than 1,000 civilians in the region since October 2014.
“Only about 100 detainees did not leave the prison from among the 1,455 who were there,” Bwakanamaha told reporters.
Citing the IS’ Amaq news agency, the Jihadist monitoring group SITE, said that the IS “took credit for the raid at Kangbayi prison ... which ultimately led to freeing 900 inmates.”
Amaq also reported that IS fighters attacked a Congolese military base near Beni.
The IS has since April last year claimed responsibility for several attacks blamed on the ADF, sometimes with factual errors, while the ADF itself has never claimed responsibility for attacks.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he did not know of a “formal link” between the ADF and IS after visiting the region in September last year.
“But it’s clear that there are real ties, because there is recruitment in other countries” of fighters who go to the DR Congo, Guterres told Radio France Internationale.
By noon on Tuesday, dozens of soldiers and police were locking down the prison, and two armored vehicles of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO were on hand, a reporter at the scene said.
Residents were fearful of a sharp increase in attacks after the jailbreak.
The rights group Lutte pour le Changement, or “Fight for Change,” said that the escapees would “reinforce criminal gangs.”
The breakout “further dashes any hope of justice and truth over the killings in the region, because many of the presumed authors of massacres in Beni, whose public trials we have been awaiting for years, have calmly left [the jail],” it said.
US Ambassador to the DR Congo Mike Hammer, who visited the region two weeks ago, condemned the “ignoble attack,” while his Canadian counterpart, Nicolas Simard, said that “all light must be shed on the circumstances of this attack.”
The ADF has killed 570 civilians since the army launched a crackdown against them in November last year, experts have said.
The attacks are apparently reprisals for the army operation, or designed to warn locals against collaborating with the army.
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