DRC prison
Burned vehicles are seen at the front gate of the Makala prison after it was attacked by supporters of jailed Christian sect leader Ne Muanda Nsemi in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo Robert Carrubba/Reuters

The jail break in the Makala maximum prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)'s capital has generated tension and violence as thousands were reported to have escaped, and hundreds killed, according to sources.

Heavy gunfire raged on 17 May as attackers carried out a pre-dawn raid on the prison in Kinshasa, which left one police officer and five attackers dead, according to government spokesman Lambert Mende. The government claimed attackers were suspected members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) separatist movement, whose leader and member of parliament Muanda Nsemi was freed and "left a hero".

However, the secretary general of the BDK political party and Nsemi's lawyer on 17 May denied involvement. Speaking to the United Nations-funded Radio Okapi, Fula Matingu said the movement does "not have an army nor soldiers" to carry out such an operation in a high-security prison.

As at 18 May, the facts of the situation remained murky. There were reports that several prisoners died, but there was no official confirmation from the police. The government also said 50 inmates had escaped, but credible reports suggest thousands of prisoners may have fled.

Following the mass jail break, police spokesman Colonel Pierrot Mwana Mputu called on the population of Kinshasa to denounce the prisoners who had escaped, pointing that some are dangerous.

"As a result of this escape, several dangerous prisoners and perpetrators of vicious crimes have vanished. The police are calling for the collaboration of the people of Kinshasa to denounce all those criminals and escapees who may be hiding in the various districts of the city of Kinshasa and to report their presence to the security and security forces," Mwana Mputu said.

"The police are counting on the collaboration of the population to avoid the upsurge of crime in the coming days."

According to the police spokesman, several escapees were recaptured and brought back to Malaka, although he did not give details or specifics about the identity of the individuals, or their fate. Mwana Mputu said it was up to the judiciary to announce the number of people caught by the police.

Local news publications reported a palpable nervousness in several districts of Kinshasa. Strong tensions prevailed in the streets of the communes surrounding Makala prison, where military and police were deployed en masse to find the escapees, according to Potico.cd. Local residents, fearing harassment from security forces, deserted the streets until 15:00 in particular in the communes of Bumbu and Ngiri-Ngiri.

There were also reports threeTV5 journalists, Francine Mukoko, Blaise Basomboli and Baudry Mata, were beaten by uniformed police officers near the Makala prison. According to Actualité.cd, the officers sprayed the journalists with urine after they enquired about the necessary permits to film the damage in the prison. The trio was allegedly taken to the offices of the Rapid Intervention Police before being released, without their work equipment.

At the time of writing, security operations to capture the escapees were ongoing.