BANDA ACEH (Indonesia) • Ninety inmates in western Indonesia are on the run after they broke down the prison's fence when they were supposed to be at a prayer gathering, officials said yesterday.
The prisoners fled from Lambaro prison in Banda Aceh on Thursday night, although some were quickly recaptured, Agence France-Presse reported.
"There were 726 inmates at the time, 113 of them ran away. We have recaptured 23 of them but are still searching for the other escapees," justice ministry spokesman Ade Kusmanto said.
The inmates were let out of their cells for mass prayers in the Muslim-majority nation, but some took advantage of the situation by breaking the prison's fence, Mr Kusmanto said.
Banda Aceh police chief Trisno Riyanto said the inmates were mostly convicted of drug charges, reported Associated Press (AP).
The prisoners - who apparently planned their escape in advance - hurled bottles of water laced with chilli at the guards.
They were able to overpower the guards, using barbells and crowbars, and cut through the wire fence before making a dash through rice fields in front of the prison.
Ten officers were on duty when the inmates escaped.
Police have launched a massive hunt for the escapees and heightened security at the prison.
Indonesian soldiers have also been deployed for the manhunt, Reuters reported.
"We are still chasing the escapees along with the police and military," Indonesia's director of prisons Sri Puguh Budi Utami told reporters.
She said the Lambaro prison can accommodate 800 prisoners.
Aceh provincial police chief Rio Septianda Djambak called on the escaped prisoners to surrender within three days and urged their relatives to support the authorities in bringing them back.
"We will not hesitate to take firm action to force them to obey the law," he was quoted as saying by AP.
Jailbreaks are not uncommon in Indonesia, where prisoners are often held in poor conditions at overcrowded penitentiaries.
A war on drugs being led by the government of President Joko Widodo has triggered a spike in the number of convicted drug offenders, stretching an already overwhelmed jail system.
Thursday's escape followed a riot at another Banda Aceh jail in January, when hundreds of prisoners torched the prison complex.
That incident was reportedly triggered by a transfer of three drug dealers to another prison, according to Jakarta Globe.
In May last year, more than 400 inmates broke out after mass prayers at an overcrowded prison in Riau province.
One month later, dozens of inmates swam from a flooded Indonesian jail in Sumatra after one of its walls collapsed.
In July 2013, more than 200 prisoners, including several terrorists, escaped during a deadly riot at a prison in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.