41 killed in attacks on Iraq prisons
Updated: 2013-07-23 09:13
Militants free more than 500 inmates in coordinated assault
At least 41 people were killed in clashes that raged overnight after militants launched coordinated attacks on two Iraqi prisons in an attempt to free inmates, officials said on Monday.
The attacks on the prisons of Taji, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, west of the Iraqi capital, were launched on Sunday night and lasted around 10 hours, and at least 500 prisoners escaped, they said.
At least 20 members of the Iraqi security forces and 21 prisoners died in the violence, the officials said, without providing any figures for casualties among the assailants.
About 40 other security force members were wounded.
It was not immediately known how many of the assailants were killed, wounded or captured.
The attacks began at around 9:30 pm (local time) on Sunday when the gunmen fired mortar shells at the prisons.
Explosives in cars were then detonated near the prisons' entrances, while three suicide bombers attacked Taji prison, the police colonel said.
Fighting continued throughout the night as the military deployed helicopters and sent in reinforcements around the two facilities.
The situation was eventually brought under control by dawn, the colonel said.
"The security forces in the Baghdad Operations Command, with the assistance of military aircraft, managed to foil an armed attack launched by unknown gunmen against the . . . two prisons of Taji and Abu Ghraib," the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Sunday night.
"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 said.
However, micro-bloggers on Twitter, some apparently affiliated with jihadists, claimed thousands of prisoners had escaped.
The attacks on the prisons came a year after al-Qaida's Iraqi front group announced it would target the Iraqi 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, in July 2012.
Prisons in Iraq are periodically hit by escape attempts, uprisings and other unrest.