The mass jailbreak from al-Kuifiya prison occurred following a fierce riot during which some prisoners set the prison complex on fire, reported Xinhua citing witnesses. While the security official said it took place after some unidentified gunmen began attacking the prison from outside at dawn.
Most of the convicts held in the prison face criminal charges and some were involved in supporting the regime of ex-leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was ousted in the domestic conflict in 2011, the official said.
Some of the escapees were recaptured by police and security forces, who had orders not to fire on the prisoners, as some of them were of foreign nationalities.
However, according to another security source, three escapees were wounded when they were chased by prison guards.
Local media said the attack might be linked to the anger of some citizens living nearby who are against the presence of a prison close to their homes. But no official remarks about the cause of the incident was given.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, in a televised speech, said that those who fled would be searched by the authorities across the country and ordered closing of the border crossing with Egypt to prevent their further escape.
Also Saturday, protesters took to the street across Libya to denounce the killing of Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, a prominent activist and critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was shot dead Friday.
The Muslim Brotherhood is accused of being behind the assassination, while many demonstrators said the government was slow in responding to violence.
Two military officials were also killed in Benghazi Friday. It was yet to be ascertained whether the prison attack Saturday was linked to these killings or not.