Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: SARS Attack - Police Intensify Search for Fugitives

Security and civil defence forces in Nigeria are still searching for a number of high profile detainees who escaped from police detention centre in Abuja. The number of fugitives, according to the police, is 30 and so far six have been recaptured. Those who are still on the run were detained based on armed robbery-related cases.

The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) office located in Garki 2 (Old Abattoir) was ambushed in the early hours of November 26. Dozens of unknown gunmen encased the office and let loose all the detainees there after killing two police guards.

One police source said the gunmen launched the attack with military-style weapons and each of them carried sufficient ammunition enough to engage police patrol team. They scaled the back yard fence and advanced toward the detention facility, shooting erratically into the air and at some of their targets, the source said.

"Some of the police guards around were caught unawares, because nobody expected attack at that hour while those who were on the alert fired back at the attackers," the sources said.

The police were to some extent overwhelmed due to insufficient ammunition to the extent that the attackers unlocked the cells and freed the detainees. The source said the attack may not be unconnected with an effort by terrorists to free some of their contemporaries languishing there.

The source said there were people in the cells detained on terrorism charges, while others were kept on allegation of petty thefts and armed robberies. Few suspects were transferred there from other police units, pending the conclusion of investigation into their respective cases. "All the detainees escaped, because the guards took cover." The attack was carried out in a coordinated manner, indicating that those responsible were either working with insiders or must have acquired intelligence about the office and the personnel there. The time for the attack was also planned, the source said.

Police spokesman Frank Mba said police reinforced and recaptured 25 of the fugitives as well as two of the attackers. Later at night, the police rearrested one other detainee who was initially in custody on robbery charges, but the police did not give details about those who escaped and those recaptured. Also, no explanation was given about the two attackers who were captured.

Police in the Federal Capital Territory and other formations were placed on red alert following the attack as well as asked to fish out the remaining escapees. A number of police raids have been going on in Abuja and hundreds of people had been arrested.

Mba said the raids were "routine and have nothing to do with the previous attack on SARS. The raids were intended to arrest criminals and bring them to book before they commits havoc. They are continuous exercises, intelligent based and target oriented."

He said the police are working together with the public and other security forces to trace the hideouts of the four fugitives remaining, adding that the attack would not in any way dampen the morale of police officers in the current fight against terrorism. The police are making headway into the circumstances behind the attack and those responsible would be traced and brought to book, he said.

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