A manhunt is underway in Iraq for hundreds of convicts, including senior al Qaeda terrorists, who broke out of Abu Ghraib prison after a military-style raid to free them, authorities said on Monday.
Between 500 to 1,000 prisoners have escaped as a result of the attack, “most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” said Hakim Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament.
Suicide bombers drove cars with explosives into the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night, while gunmen attacked guards with mortar fire as well as rocket propelled grenades.
Other militants held the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad, as several insurgents wearing suicide vests entered Abu Ghraib on foot to help free the inmates.
Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the fighting, which continued until early Monday, when military helicopters arrived to help regain control.
By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib. The security forces arrested some of them, the rest are still free, Zamili commented.
It’s obviously a terrorist attack carried out by al Qaeda to free convicted terrorists with al Qaeda,” another security official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Jihadist accounts on Twitter claimed that not 500, but thousands of prisoners had escaped from the detention facility. A number of users also posted similar claims on the Honein jihadist forum, AFP news agency reports.
The Abu Ghraib capable of holding around 15,000 inmates has become notorious a decade ago after photographs showing abuse of prisoners by US soldiers were made available to the public.
A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, to the north of Baghdad, had a similar scheme, but guards prevented a break-out. 16 soldiers and six militants were killed there.
The attacks on the tow prisons came a year after Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group announced that it would be targeting the country’s justice system.