At least two people were killed and 15 prisoners escaped after a suspected Islamist militant detainee shot his way out of the main jail in Mali’s capital Bamako on Monday, a government official said.
Mid-afternoon gunfire shook downtown Bamako, underscoring lingering security fears in a country where French and U.N. troops have deployed to draw a line under a coup and the occupation of Mali’s north by al Qaeda-linked Islamists two years ago.
Boya Dembele, a senior justice ministry official, said 23 prisoners had initially escaped but eight were later recaptured. The dead included a guard and one of the prisoners who tried to escape, he said on state television.
Dembele said the mass break out began when Mohamed Aly Ag Wadousene, a detainee accused of kidnapping and belonging to terrorist groups, took advantage of plumbers accessing cells to start shooting at guards.
It was not clear how he became armed or if other suspected militants escaped, but the government warned Malians that he was dangerous. Most militants are held in other locations.
Mali has endured two years of political instability since Islamist rebels took advantage of a 2012 coup to seize the desert north.
French troops drove the al Qaeda-linked Islamists from the desert zone last year but other rebels remain in the north and newly elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has struggled to retain the local and international support that swept him to power last year.
Mali’s army suffered a heavy defeat in fighting with separatist rebels last month and authorities earlier this month arrested an army officer and a number associates suspected of plotting against Keita.