At least six prisoners have died and several others, including guards, were injured during an attempted breakout from an Abidjan prison, security sources have said.

People living near the Maca jail, the largest in Ivory Coast, said shooting erupted on Tuesday and continued late into the night.

"There are at least six dead among the prisoners and many injured, including both prisoners and guards, " a security source said Wednesday, updating an earlier toll of two dead.

A policeman said all surviving prisoners had returned to their cells by early Wednesday in the prison which houses many people linked to former president Laurent Gbagbo.

Details of the attempted breakout remained unclear, but a source close to the army high command said police moved in to "restore order" after a group of detainees took three guards hostage.

Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara in a 2010 poll sparked fighting that killed an estimated 3,000 people.

The former president is being held at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he is facing crimes against humanity charges over his role in the post-election crisis.

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