ABUJAâ€” The Department of State Service, DSS , confirmed, yesterday, that 21 Boko Haram suspects were killed in a shoot-out at its detention centre between its operatives and the sect members.
DSS said two of its operatives sustained serious injuries.
The detained terrorists reportedly over-powered the guards, shot several operatives and attempted to stage a daring escape from detention.
There were, however, different accounts on how the attempted jailbreak was carried out.
Meanwhile, Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, denied reports, yesterday, that President Goodluck Jonathan was whisked away during the attempted jailbreak and shootout.
How Bâ€™Haram overpowered DSS operative
According to a security source, one of the Boko Haram members told one of the DSS guards that he was pressed and needed to go to the toilet. The sect memberâ€™s request was obliged without being leg-chained. On getting to the toilet and finding the door locked, he applied force and uprooted the toilet seat unknown to the operative who was standing outside.
When the detainee knocked the door to indicate that he had finished, the DSS the operative opened the door, only to have his head smashed with the heavy toilet seat.
The operative was said to have collapsed. The sect member then collected the gun of the operative, went to the cell entrance and opened fire on the other operatives who were caught off-guard and set free many of his colleagues.
The source said it was the shooting at the DSS centre that alerted other operatives who mobilised to take on the sect members, leading to serious shoot-out between the terrorists and the operatives for over an hour before security was re-enforced and soldiers drafted to the scene.
Another account of the incident had it that trouble started around 6 a.m. during the normal handing and taking over of duties by DSS detaineesâ€™ handlers.
Vanguard learnt that the shoot-out erupted when some of the suspected terrorists attempted to free their members and leave the detention facility, which is by the precincts of the Presidential Villa.
A competent source said as soon as one handler opened the gate leading to the cell where the detainees were being kept, 10 suspected terrorists rushed out, snatched the handlerâ€™s rifle and used it to shoot at him.
Alerted by the attack, some DSS handlers were reported to have retreated so as not to be killed by the rampaging suspected terrorists. The source said after shooting the first handler, the 10 suspected terrorists began to escape into different locations within the massive security compound.
Alarmed by the effrontery of the suspected terrorists, the DSS quickly deployed its men to quell the uprising, resulting in heavy shooting that claimed the lives of some of the suspects.
Many DSS operatives and Boko Haram detainees were also injured in the ensuing stampede.
The shot DSS operative, whose name could not be immediately ascertained, was immediately rushed to an undisclosed hospital. A source said the shot operative was in a critical condition but had not died.
DSS commences probe
It was learnt that the DSS, which is highly embarrassed by the incident, has begun investigation into why the detainees handler decided to go and open the cell gate alone without being accompanied by others, as is the standard practice.
According to the source, â€œthe whole episode occurred between 6:30 am and 7am on Sunday during the normal hand-over and take-over of detainees.
â€œThe standard rule is that you cannot go alone to open the gate leading to the detaineesâ€™ cell but as soon as the man opened the gate, he was attacked and he tried to run away and was shot. The shot operative has been taken to hospital.â€
The uprising led to the deployment of soldiers to the DSS Headquarters and around the Presidential Villa.
Situation under control â€”DSS
Spokeswoman for the DSS, Marylyn Ogar, confirmed the attempted jailbreak which she said had been stalled by security agents.
She said: â€œWhat happened was that the suspectsâ€™ handler went to feed the detainees but suddenly they attacked him with their handcuffs, disarmed him and started shooting.â€
They are convicted terrorists
It was also gathered that the detained Boko Haram men, who confronted operatives of the DSS in a bid to free themselves, were prisoners already convicted for terrorism.
A security source said the prisoners were taken to the DSS headquarters for security reasons.
The source, who declined to be quoted because he had not been authorised to speak on the matter, said the DSS opted to keep the condemned terrorists in its facilities to prevent them from escaping from normal prison custody.
2 DSS operatives injured
Another statement issued by the spokesperson of the organisation, Mrs. Marilyn Ogar, said two operatives of the service who sustained serious injuries have been hospitalised.
Her words: â€œFollowing our earlier releases, it has been established that 18 casualties were recorded, while two service personnel sustained serious injuries. Three other detainees who sustained gun shot injuries during the incident have also died.â€
At press time, the entire road linking the DSS headquarters, Presidential Villa, Mambilla Barracks, Niger Barracks, Guards Brigade headquarters and Lungi Barracks, have been cordoned off while bomb disposal experts of the army, K9 Dogs and other security agencies have been deployed to the area to join in containing the situation.
Heavily armed counter terrorism training soldiers and K9 Dogs, accompanied by DSS personnel were said to have entered inside the DSS headquarters with a view to flushing out the sect members who continued to shoot at operatives and arresting those that were unarmed.
Increase in helicopter patrol
An increased security presence was put in place at all the gates leading to the presidential villa with more armed personnel drafted in.
One of the two gates into the villa was shut down with only the entrance from the federal secretariat through the Supreme Court left open.
There was an increased helicopter patrol of Abuja airspace especially the three arms zone where the Presidential area is located.
Jonathan safe and well â€”Presidency
Speaking with Voice of America, VOA, yesterday, Abati who was reacting to eyewitness account suggesting that Jonathan was whisked away said: â€œIt was an attempted jailbreak. Those arrested tried to make an attempt to escape, but the situation was immediately and effectively brought under control. We will want to reassure everyone that really there is no cause for alarm.
Some Nigerians expressed worry following the gunshots, since the DSS headquarters building is near the presidential villa.
According to Abati, â€œThe president is safe and well, and there is no cause for alarm. There are some persons who are trying to put up negative information trying to suggest that the president was whisked away. The truth of the matter is that there was no attack on the Presidential Villa.â€
FG determined to end security challenges â€” Jonathan
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan, weekend, assured that the Federal Government had taken adequate measures to arrest the security challenges facing the country.
The President, who was represented by the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, also acknowledged the incessant bloody conflict between Benue farmers and suspected Fulani herders, assured that the crisis will soon come to an end.
He spoke in Makurdi at the wedding ceremony/reception of the son of the Minister of State for Trade and Investment and Supervising Minister of Aviation, Dr. Samuel Ortom.
UK cautions citizens in Abuja
Meantime, the UK Foreign Office has advised British citizens in Abuja to maintain â€œheightened vigilance.â€
The revised travel alert on Nigeria was posted on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website on Sunday.
The travel alert advised British citizens to be especially vigilant â€œshould they need to go to Asokoro or The Three Arms Zone in Abuja.â€