Nigerian Prison Break

There was a massive prison break in Abuja, Nigeria:

Armed with bombs, Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPGs) and General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG), the attackers, who arrived at about 10:05 p.m. local time, gained access through the back of the prison, using dynamites to destroy the heavily fortified facility, freeing 600 out of the prison’s 994 inmates, according to the country’s defense minister, Bashir Magashi….

What’s interesting to me is how the defenders got the threat model wrong. That attack isn’t normally associated with a prison break; it sounds more like a military action in a civil war.

Posted on July 11, 2022 at 6:35 AM10 Comments


Bill July 11, 2022 7:35 AM

“the leader of the brutal terrorist group, Ansaru” was held in a “medium-security prison.”

Sounds like an invitation to disaster.

JonKnowsNothing July 11, 2022 7:44 AM

Re: Prison Threat Model vs Prisoner of War Threat Model

In the normal sense the word “prison” infers that Usual Suspects for law enforcement. It’s a sliding scale of Modern Life Sliced along the burnt bottom crust.

There are increasing conflicts globally, or perhaps more of them are making the evening news (slow news day) and in these conflicts the prison holds “prisoners of war”, even if they hail from the same Modern Life Slice as the previous group. Notables and Nobel Prize Winners have come from this group of prisoners.

If you are attempting to spring a notable person or a large number of prisoners of conflict, you need a Big Hole in the fence, a Big Hole in the building, and a Big Hole escape path. There are movies made depicting these sorts of escapes.

In my area of the USA, we have a lot of prisons nearby. It’s one of the big employers after Big Ag. Along with the prison systems (Local, County, State, Federal and others) we have all the major LEO participants.

The buildings do look rather impervious to most of the listed attacks but I think RPGs, mortar rounds with maybe an exploding cement truck would put a big dent in them.


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Ted July 11, 2022 9:20 AM

Well, what systems go on alert now? They reportedly freed 600 of 994 inmates, including 64 jihadists.

The jihadist [Khalid al Barnawi] was labeled a “global terrorist” in 2012 by the U.S. government, which also offered a $5 million reward for “information that brings to justice” al Barnawi.

Clive Robinson July 11, 2022 10:22 AM

@ Bill,

Sounds like an invitation to disaster.

The prison is of mixed security from medium upwards.

Some other inmates are “police” and “politicians” who are known or suspected of involvment with serious crime including involvment with “drug lords”, “terrorists”, and perhaps the worst of the lot, various “Western Corporations” that have benifited by villages being wiped out etc and driven off of land etc.

Nigeria is a mess in all sorts of ways and has been for atleast five decades to my knowledge.

Coruption is endemic as the Government does not have the funds to pay for services most in the West would assume for granted.

Because of this in the past two years there has been some 5,000 prison escapees and the solution tried was in effect to reduce the number of prisons at risk by making concebtrated mixed prisons.

It’s been said from various sources that the number of guards etc were low at the time, and when the attack happened they moved to defend the “Police and Political” prisoners who it was thought were the real targets to be executed by what have been claimed in the past as Boko terrorist members, but could actually have been working for people indirectly who would benifit by the “Police and Politicians” being detained, never speaking out…

We are just going to have to wait for more information, but one thing is clear it already appears that Ansaru leader “Khalid al Barnawi” and six of of his commanders who were taken away were not actually the primary target of the attack…

Ted July 11, 2022 2:08 PM


Re: Ansaru leader “Khalid al Barnawi”

Sources speculate that al Barnawi may have coordinated the attack. The Al-Qaeda trained leader reportedly has a high IQ.

He previously masterminded a suicide car bombing at the Nigerian UN headquarters that killed 18 people in 2011. People are worried that Boko Haram terrorist activities may increase in the area.

The nation’s State Security Service (SSS) had described his 2016 capture as “a major milestone in the counterterrorism fight.”

Clive Robinson July 11, 2022 3:31 PM

@ Ted, ALL,

Sources speculate that al Barnawi may have coordinated the attack. The Al-Qaeda trained leader reportedly has a high IQ.

Look at the “time line” they could have been out 15-20 minutes earlier if he had been the primary target.

But insted for that time they chose to hold a “talking shop” session away from the more secure part of the prison where the “Police” and “Politicians” were incarcerated, then haneded out money and other things to the escapes.

Apparently at the front of the prison during that time there were quite forcefull efforts to breach into where those special prisoners were being guarded/protected… That as far as we know were rebuffed, and they finally left.

It’s in some of the news reports with witness statments.

Z.Lozinski July 12, 2022 1:28 PM

@Bruce, “How the defenders got the threat model wrong”

I’d suggest that the defenders either failed to learn from others’ experience of successful prison breaks, or did not have the required resources. (Now there’s a lesson for the computer security world ..)

Use of explosives or weapons for prison breakouts is not uncommon.

The Nigerian episode looks like a repeat of the Brazilian Romeu Goncalves Abrantes Prison escape in 2018. Four vehicles, explosives, lots of guns, 92 escapees. And that was itself a repeat of earlier escape attempts.

The only prison break where it might be fair to say the defenders got the threat model wrong was the Amiens raid in 1944 (Operation Jericho). An RAF precision bombing raid designed to take down the prison walls is probably beyond most cost-effective defences.

I remember my shock as a kid when the IRA staged the escape of three prisoners from Montjoy Prison is Dublin using a hijacked helicopter. That went beyond everyone’s threat model. That was the only helicopter escape in Ireland as the prisons were then modified to prevent a repeat. But France, Canada, the US and other authorities didn’t get the memo, or didn’t pay attention, and the helicopter escape method has been successfully copied on multiple occasions in all those countries.

The defenders in a high security prison must assume motivated, well-resourced opponents.

Security Sam July 12, 2022 1:52 PM

Alone at last I sit
Quite brokenhearted
Trying hard to think
So don’t get me started.

Clive Robinson July 12, 2022 5:40 PM

@ Z.Lozinski, Bruce,

Re : The defenders got the threat model wrong.

I think they actually did not.

As you note,

or did not have the required resources.

As I’ve pointed out a few times there is the “Defense Spending” conundrum of,

You never know when you are spending to much on defense, only when you have spent to little (and somebody takes advantage of your lack of spending).”

Resources are finite, defenders have to spread them across many areas, an attacker can focus their resources in just one small area. Simple logic tells you that at similar resource levels the attacker always has the advantage. Likewise even when the attacker has a tiny fraction of the resources of a deffender, they are still going to get a significant advantage, it’s why “asymetric warfare” works so well.

From some of what came out it appears the defenders decided to protect the lives of certain other prisorners at the expense of having other escape.

I’m fairly certain that those still alive and their families and friends are thankfull for that choice.

Will it turn out to be a mistake because the escapees go on and commit acts of violence and murder?

Who knows, but that is tommorows problem.

In resource limited environmints and Nigeria is most definately one of those, people have to make choices. Sometimes the choices are right sometimes they are wrong.

For instance when they caught the terrorist leader and his half dozen lieutenants, the authorities could just have executed them then and there, then this problem would not have occured.

Was that a wrong choice or a right choice?…

As a design engineer I implicitly make hundreds of choices a day. Many I might feel are not what I’d like them to be, or could even become wrong in the future under certain circumstances.

Like it or not that is what everybodies life is like every day, “20:20 Hindsight” is easy “20:20 forsight” not even the Gods can manage.

Hence we have the test of “What was reasonable action on the day at the time”.

So did the defenders, given their very distinct lack of resources act reasonably by trying to defend the lives of other prisoners?

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