Militias from a Christian sect Bundu dia Kongo, have stormed the main prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, freeing their leader and about 1000 plus other inmates.
Shots were fired and vehicles torched as Ne Muanda Nsemi was freed from the jail in Kinshasa, witnesses said.
Police are suspected to have shot dead several prisoners, witnesses added.
Mr Nsemi is a self-styled prophet and the leader of an outlawed group seeking to revive the ancient Kongo kingdom.
He was arrested, along with his three wives and son, in March following clashes between his supporters and police.
Mr Nsemi leads the Bundu dia Kongo movement, which is campaigning to restore a monarchy in parts of DR Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Gabon.
He was an MP when he was arrested in Kinshasa after police accused him of inciting violence.
“Followers of the Bundu Dia Kongo attacked Makala prison at dawn and broke out around ”50” prisoners including their guru, Ne Muanda Nsemi,” government spokesman Lambert Mende said, AFP news agency reports.
But Local right organizations say more than 1000 inmates have manage to escape.
A major operation is underway in Kinshasa to recapture the prisoners, reports Mbelechi Msoshi from the city.
He saw Red Cross officials loading the bodies of several prisoners into vehicles and and transporting them to the morgue.
In January 2016, every prisoner except one escaped from a jail in eastern DR Congo. They included murder and rape convicts.
Rights groups say prisons in the country are over-crowded and badly guarded.
Ne Muanda Nsemi: The man behind the unrest
Former chemistry professor at the University of Kinshasa
Comes from the minority Bakongo ethnic group
Claims to have received a revelation from the “Archangel of the Kongo” in 1969
Formed the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) movement in 1986
Wants to re-establish the Kongo kingdom that once straddled four modern-day states.
Supporters and security forces involved in violent clashes
Elected to parliament in 2006 as an independent
Formed the Bundu dia Mayala political party in 2010 after BDK banned
Arrested in March after security forces besiege his home for two weeks
Escapes from jail on 17 May
By Africafrique and agencies