500 inmates escape in deadly assaults on two Iraq prisons Brazen attacks claim more than 40 lives

BAGHDAD, July 22, (AFP): Militants stormed two Iraqi prisons including notorious Abu Ghraib with mortar rounds, bombs and gunfire, freeing at least 500 inmates in assaults that cost more than 40 lives, officials said Monday. The coordinated attacks on Taji prison, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, were launched on Sunday night and triggered fighting which raged for around 10 hours, officials said. Abu Ghraib prison, infamous as a centre for the torture of opponents of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, gained further notoriety in 2004 when graphic pictures emerged showing prisoners being humiliated and abused by their US guards. “About 500 prisoners escaped from Abu Ghraib prison,” Hakem al-Zamili, a member of the parliamentary security and defence committee, told AFP.

Zamili said that, to his knowledge, no inmates escaped from the prison in Taji.
But MP Shwan Taha, also a security and defence committee member, said in an online statement that between 500 and 1,000 inmates escaped from the two prisons.
A frenzy of comments posted on social media, including some Twitter accounts apparently operated by jihadists, claimed that thousands of prisoners had escaped.
Officials said at least 20 members of the security forces were killed and 40 wounded in the attacks. And the justice ministry’s spokesman said 21 inmates were killed and 25 wounded in rioting at the prisons.
It was not immediately clear how many of the militants who attacked the prison were killed, wounded or captured.
The attacks were launched at around 9:30 pm (1830 GMT) on Sunday when the militants fired mortar rounds at the prisons.
Four car bombs were detonated near the entrances to the prisons, while three suicide bombers attacked the Taji prison, a police colonel said. Five roadside bombs also exploded near the prison in Taji.
Fighting continued throughout the night as the military deployed aircraft and sent in reinforcements around the two facilities.

The situation was eventually brought under control on Monday morning, according to the colonel.
But the interior ministry issued a statement before midnight on Sunday saying the attack had already been foiled.
“The security forces in the Baghdad Operations Command, with the assistance of military aircraft, managed to foil an armed attack launched by unknown gunmen” on the prisons, the statement said.
“The security forces forced the attackers to flee, and these forces are still pursuing the terrorist forces and exerting full control over the two regions,” it added.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meanwhile gave a speech on Monday at the opening of a water project, but made no mention of the deadly assaults on the prisons or the inmates who escaped.

Senior political and religious figures often remain silent on the deadly violence sweeping the country.
The attacks on the prisons came a year after al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group announced it would target the country’s justice system.
“The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards,” said an audio message attributed to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Prisons in Iraq have previously been hit by escape attempts, uprisings and other unrest.
Deadly violence also hit security forces in northern Iraq on Monday.

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