A religious separatist leader was freed from jail in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after armed supporters raided the prison he was being held in. Along with their leader, the militants freed other inmates. Originally said to be around 50 by local officials, that number has grown to 3,000 escaped inmates, according to the BBC.

Ne Muanda Nsemi is the leader of Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), a religious group that seeks to reestablish the pre-colonial kingdom of Kongo, which once reigned in territory touching parts of DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, and Gabon. Nsemi founded the group in 1986, after previously claiming to have become a prophet following a revelation from the “Archangel of the Kongo” in 1969.

Nsemi was once a member of parliament, before he was arrested by police after a two-week-long siege of his home in March, in the capital Kinshasa. Authorities had accused Nsemi of inciting violence as part of a conflict that goes back many years. Hundreds of BDK members were killed by the government during violent protests in 2007 and 2008, with their bodies disposed in mass graves.

The latest political contention stems from the formation of a new government in December 2016, a government that Nsemi and his followers believed did not include enough representation for their movement.

In February, a police raid on the group with the stated objective of arresting Nsemi failed to capture the religious leader, but killed at least four of his supporters in the process.

Locals say the operation to break Nsemi out of prison began in the early morning hours, when they heard gunshots around 4 AM, and then saw prisoners moving through the streets shortly thereafter. Cars were burnt as the prisoners made their way out.

The conflict with Nsemi and his BDK group is part of wider instability in the DRC, following President Joseph Kabila’s decision to remain in power beyond the expiration of a mandate in December. Conflicts with the likes of the BDK and other splinter groups have led to hundreds of people being killed in recent months, sparking fears of another civil war.

Image courtesy of Al Jazeera