LAGOS, Nigeria – Gunmen attacked a major police station near Nigeria's capital Monday that holds members of a radical Islamist sect, freeing prisoners and killing two police officers in the latest assault on the nation's beleaguered security forces.
The attack on the Special Anti-Robbery Squad's station near Abuja came as the death toll for suicide car bombings Sunday at a major military base rose Monday to at least 30 people killed, a hospital official said. While the sect known as Boko Haram has yet to claim the attacks, both strikes bear similarities to other assaults carried out by a group the Nigerian government seems unable to stop.
The attack on the police station began around 2 a.m. Monday, with a "large number" of gunmen killing the officers and allowing about 30 prisoners inside the facility to escape, federal police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement. Two suspected gunmen were arrested after the attack and 25 of the prisoners have been captured, Mba said.
Authorities said none of those who escaped were terrorism suspects and that the five still at large were being held on suspicion of being armed robbers.
An investigation into the attack has begun, Mba said, while the nation's top police commander has ordered "water-tight security around all government and police-related facilities nationwide."
The robbery squad's station has come under international scrutiny after Amnesty International published a report this month describing the facility as a former slaughterhouse where chains still hang from the ceiling. Amnesty's report, which included allegations of Boko Haram suspects being abused and held indefinitely without charges, estimated more than 100 suspected sect members are held at the station. At the time of the report's release, police officials said they would investigate Amnesty's claims.
Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the Hausa language of Nigeria's north, has demanded the release of all its captive members and has called for strict Shariah law to be implemented across the entire country. The sect has killed both Christians and Muslims in their attacks, as well as soldiers and security forces.
The group, which speaks to journalists in telephone conference calls at times of its choosing, could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The sect is blamed for killing more than 760 people this year alone, according to an Associated Press count. Western diplomats and military officials say the sect has loose ties to both al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Somalia's al-Shabab, while also offering fighters to join Islamists now controlling northern Mali. That has led to worries the group will grow only more violent as time goes on.
On Sunday, the suicide bombings hit Jaji, home to Nigeria's Armed Forces Command and Staff College, one of the country's most important military colleges. While authorities initially said the blast killed 11 people, an official at the base's medical center said Monday at least 30 died from the blasts and another 45 others had been wounded in the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the military hospital bars its staff from speaking to journalists.
Brig. Gen. Bola Koleoso, a military spokesman, said he had no new information Monday about the bombings.
Despite sending soldiers into troubled northern cities, Nigeria's military has been unable to stop the attacks and has alienated locals with heavy-handed tactics and retaliatory attacks that have seen dozens of civilians killed at a time. Meanwhile, soldiers and security forces routinely have been killed in guerrilla attacks by Boko Haram.
The suicide bombings and police station attack comes after Nigerian authorities offered a total of $1.8 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest of top Boko Haram members.