More than 900 prisoners escaped on Friday from Likasi prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo after members of a different jail gang attacked staff and “caused serious damage,” according to Congolese officials.
The chief of Likasi prison, Moise Ngudu, told reporters that a group calling itself “Kambara Ngangale,” or the “Youth Militia,” had entered Likasi and released prisoners, including some killed in a prison riot earlier this year.
Patrick Baratti, a leader of the rioting prisoners, said his group of killers is calling for Ngomweongo, the drug-fueled religious sect whose members are suspected of killing more than 50 people in the town in July, to be disbanded. The group also accused the government of not having done enough to track down the sect’s leader, Emmanuel Ngomweongo, who escaped from prison last week.
“The problem here is that after Emmanuel Ngomweongo escaped from prison last week the vigilante group took to the streets,” Baratti said. “Now these prisoners are at risk because the vigilante group has attacked the prison.”
Congolese officials, including President Joseph Kabila, have suggested that Christian militiamen, known as yangu, or “sheep men,” are behind the group’s uprisings.
There are more than 850,000 people in prison in Congo, most of them nonviolent offenders, according to a 2016 report from Amnesty International. A third of Congo’s prison population is reportedly held for drug-related offenses.
Congo has struggled to stem the spread of armed groups in recent years. The U.N. Security Council last year accused security forces of “gross violations” of human rights, including the killings of 16 prisoners in prison. Congo’s government has vowed to prosecute the attackers.