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Treason suspect's Chikurubi escape foiled

Secure ... Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Harare

06/04/2010 00:00:00

POLICE say they have foiled an attempted prison escape by a suspect in an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

Albert Mugove Matapo, whose trial is not yet concluded, was one of seven men re-arrested over the daring 2AM plan to break out of Zimbabwe’s most secure prison – Chikurubi Maximum.

Investigators say the men, who include armed robbery and murder suspects, received assistance from at least one prison officer.

Chikurubi was put on lockdown early Monday when an alert guard raised the alarm as the prisoners used a hacksaw to cut the prison cell burglar bar, then smashed a windowpane with a claw hammer.

The Zimbabwe Prison Authority said the attempted escape was in the ‘D Class’ section reserved for dangerous criminals including rapists, murderers and other violent offenders.

All seven prisoners were rounded up and returned to holding cells. Police have named the men as Matapo, who is held for treason, Lucky Mhungu, Asani Chikwanda and Sarezi Shonhiwa who are all on remand for armed robbery, Ruperts Chimanga who is charged with armed robbery and attempted murder as well as the pair of Phillip Chivhurunge and Bigknows Wairesi who are murder suspects.

Matapo was arrested with six other serving and retired middle and lower rank officers from the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) over alleged June 2007 plot to topple Mugabe and replace him with the Housing Minister Emerson Mnangagwa.

Matapo was fingered as the ring leader in the alleged plot foiled by security forces. The group had contacted several western countries to "sound them out" if they would support a coup.

Authorities say the plan was to seize control of State House and Mugabe's Borrowdale residence through an air and ground assault, arresting some of the President’s loyalists in the process.

The coup was tentatively set for June 15, 2007, the pay day for military and police officers who were growingly unhappy with their hyperinflation-hit salaries.

The only successful break-out from Chikurubi was the November 1995 escape by infamous armed robbers and killers Edmund Masendeke, Elias Chauke and Stephen Chidhumo along with a fourth man.

All three men were later re-arrested after resuming their crime spree and sentenced to death. They were hanged in 2003.


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