Notorious ‘Global Terror’ Boss Escaped in Mass Prison Break, Jail Officials Say

ABUJA, Nigeria — The militants that carried out Tuesday night attack on the Kuje medium-security prison, just outside Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, freed dozens of jihadists including the leader of the brutal terrorist group, Ansaru, according to a number of Nigerian security officials .

Armed with bombs, Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPGs) and General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG), the attackers, who arrived at about 10:05 pm local time, gained access through the back of the prison, using dynamites to destroy the heavily fortified facility. , freeing 600 out of the prison’s 994 inmates, according to the country’s defense minister, Bashir Magashi, who said 64 of those freed were jihadists.

“Most likely, they [the attackers] are Boko Haram members because we have [a] sizable number of Boko Haram suspects in detention, and presently we cannot locate any of them, ”Magashi told reporters on Wednesday morning. “They have all escaped.”

The Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), which has recently been working closely with Ansaru, later claimed responsibility for the attack and even released a video showing a part of the prison in flames and many of the inmates fleeing the prison. Militants from both groups worked together in carrying out the March attack on the Abuja to Kaduna train in northern Nigeria in which nine people were killed and over 65 abducted.

The government has not officially named the jihadists that were freed by the attackers, but three security officials told The Daily Beast that Ansaru leader Khalid al Barnawi and six of his close lieutenants were among those who escaped.

“He [al Barnawi] had been here for a couple of years, ”an official at the Kuje prison who was on duty at the facility when the jihadists invaded told The Daily Beast. “They [the attackers] came specifically to free him and his colleagues. “

A combined team of Nigerian security agencies had arrested al Barnawi, whose real name is Mohammed Usman, in 2016 and charged him in connection to the death of Italian engineer Franco Lamolinara and his British colleague, Chris McManus. The two men were killed by their Ansaru captors in the northwestern city of Sokoto in March 2012 after a British-Nigerian rescue operation was launched. The Ansaru leader was also allegedly behind the abduction of Francis Collomp, a Frenchman who escaped from his captors in November 2013, and Edgar Raupach, a German who was killed during a military raid in the northwestern state of Kano in May 2012.

In 2013, al-Barnawi and his Ansaru colleagues seized two Lebanese, two Syrians, an Italian, a Greek and a Briton, from a construction site in the northeastern city of Bauchi. The victims were transported to the vast Sambisa Forest that covers a large part of the northeast, killed and buried in a shallow grave.

Ansaru’s full Arabic name, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, translates to: “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” The group announced that it split from Boko Haram in January 2012, claiming that Boko Haram was “inhuman” for killing innocent Muslims as well as for targeting defectors.

Unlike Boko Haram, which is notorious for its indiscriminate shootings and bombings, Ansaru, which says it eschews the killing of fellow Nigerians, seems to prefer a more calculated approach: kidnapping and killing foreigners.

The group was founded by Abu Usmatul al Ansari, a little-known militant believed to have been trained by al Qaeda in Algeria. But his name is rarely mentioned in connection with Ansaru attacks. Instead, most of the credit goes to 51-year-old al Barnawi, another al Qaeda-trained jihadist who’s regarded by many of Ansaru’s militants as the “active” leader of the group. The jihadist was labeled a “global terrorist” in 2012 by the US government, which also offered a million 5 million reward for “information that brings to justice” al Barnawi.

How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?

The order to remand the terror leader in the Kuje prison was issued on March 14, 2017 by Justice John Tshoho of the Federal High Court in Abuja after he was charged with conspiracy, hostage taking, supporting a terrorist group, membership of a terrorist group, illegal possession of firearms and concealing information on terrorism. Al Barnawi was arranged along with his second wife Halima Aliya, who was charged with concealing information about the Ansaru organization, and five of his lieutenants — Mohammed Bashir Saleh, Umar Bello (aka Abu Azzan); Mohammed Salisu (aka Datti); Yakubu Nuhu (aka Bello Maishayi), and Usman Abubakar (aka Mugiratu) who were charged with the same offense as him and also ordered to be remanded in Kuje.

Nigerian authorities did not immediately obey the order. Rather, the prosecution counsel returned to court with an application seeking Justice Tsoho to vary his earlier directive and have al Barnawi and co be kept under the custody of the Department of State Service (DSS), the country’s secret police. That request was granted on April 25, 2017 but would later lead to Tsoho disqualifying himself from the trial after the suspects accused him of bias. Nothing has been reported in the media since then, as subsequent trials appear to have been held in secret.

“He [al Barnawi] was later brought to Kuje [prison], another official at the Kuje Correctional Center, as the prison facility is officially known, told The Daily Beast privately. “Since the attack took place, nobody knows his whereabouts.”

A DSS official also told The Daily Beast that al Barnawi was not in the custody of the agency but had been “sent to Kuje prison a long time ago.”

“They [Kuje prison officials] have had him for some time now, ”the official said but did not give details of when al Barnawi was moved. “He is not with the DSS.”

How the terrorists managed to attack a well guided facility just by the nation’s capital with such ease shows just challenged Nigeria’s security system is. A popular local news website, Foundation for Investigative Journalismreported that the attackers had so much free time on their hands that they first delivered a 15-minute Quranic lecture to inmates before setting them free and even spent time sharing transportation fares with the jihadists they came to rescue.

Sadiq Adelakun / Xinhua via Getty Images

According to the on-duty prison official who spoke to The Daily Beast, the attackers even made attempts to get to the cell of disgraced “super cop” Abba Kyari, who has been in the Kuje prison since March after he was arrested over his Alleged involvement in a cocaine smuggling cartel. The policeman was kept in a highly-fortified cell close to the main gate that was difficult to penetrate.

“They were asking other inmates, ‘where is Abba Kyari ?,” said the official. “It was clear that they wanted to attack him, but when they couldn’t get to him, they went away.”

Once lauded as Nigeria’s most decorated cop, Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of the Force’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT) until his suspension, was conferred with a Presidential medal of courage from Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 after his team rescued three kidnapped schoolgirls in Lagos. He won the Lagos State government’s top award for gallantry for straight three years, from 2011 and 2013, for successfully taking down high profile criminal gangs and kidnapping squads. But an FBI indictment linking him to money launderer Ramon Abbas, also known as Hushpuppi, who is awaiting sentencing by a US court for his role in cybercrimes, led to his suspension last August by the Nigeria police. He has been incarcerated since he was caught on camera attempting to bribe a drug enforcement officer over a cocaine deal.

Kyari remains in custody despite the attack that destroyed a part of the Kuje prison but die-hard terrorists, freed by their comrades, continue to pose a threat to safety of so many Nigerians. Their escape from prison all but exposes the weakness of the country’s security apparatus to the surprise of even the commander-in-chief.

“I am disappointed with the intelligence system,” President Buhari told reporters after accessing the level of damage at the prison. “How can terrorists organize, have weapons, attack a security installation and get away with it?”



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