Mass al-Qaeda jailbreak in Iraq was 'insider job'
The mass jailbreak in Iraq that led to the freeing of hundreds of al-Qaeda
fighters was carried out with inside help from prison guards, officials have
6:19PM BST 23 Jul 2013
As security forces launched a major manhunt to recapture those on the run,
Iraq's interior ministry said the gunmen who attacked prisons at Abu Ghraib
and Taji on Sunday night had been in "conspiracy" with guards at both
The scale of the assault has prompted warnings of "dark months ahead" as the
freed inmates - some of whom were top al-Qaeda operatives - launch new
campaigns against the government.
A statement from the interior ministry said: "There has been a conspiracy
between some of the guards of both prisons and the terrorist gangs that
attacked the prisons."
The allegation from the Iraqi government came as responsibility for the
jailbreak was claimed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an
al-Qaeda franchise that many Sunni extremists in Iraq follow.
In a statement brimming with sectarian venom, it said the assault - one of
the largest and most sophisticated insurgent operations ever carried out in
Iraq - was the result of months of careful planning against Baghdad's
"The mujahideen [holy warriors], after months of preparation and planning,
targeted two of the largest prisons of the Safavid government," the group
said. Safavid is used by hardline Sunnis as a derogatory term for Shia
More than 50 people, including 26 guards and Iraqi soldiers, are now known
to have died in the attacks, in which teams of gunmen and suicide bombers
mounted synchronised assaults on both jails.
Iraq's justice ministry said that 260 prisoners had been freed, and that
around 150 had been caught again. The al-Qaeda statement claimed that more
than 500 had been freed, and that 120 Iraqi guards had been killed.
Questions were also asked as to why it took the Iraqi government 10 hours to
send in helicopter gunships to quell the fighting at Abu Ghraib, a delay
that some said suggested poor command and control within the security
One Iraqi politician, who asked not to be named, claimed that the assault on
the prison at Taji was planned simply to divert security forces from what
was to be the main strike at Abu Ghraib, where an estimated 15,000 inmates
He added that a number of senior Sunni guards at Abu Ghraib had gone missing
since, and that it was possible that they had been acting as "inside men".
Other reports claimed that inmates had started riots just prior to the
attacks to distract the guards, and had been armed with weapons.
"We are preparing for a very bad storm in the next few months now that these
inmates have been released," the politican said. "We are talking about
hard-core al-Qaeda here. Some were previously held by the Americans."
The attack came exactly a year after the leader of al-Qaeda's Iraqi branch,
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launched a campaign called "Breaking the Walls", aimed
at freeing imprisoned comrades.
Last September al-Qaeda launched a similar operation that freed more than
100 inmates from a prison in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit.
The ability of al-Qaeda to strike at the Iraqi government's most
heavily-guarded facilities shows how the organisation has regrouped in the
last two years - and also how the Iraqi government is struggling to maintain
Toby Dodge, an Iraq specialist at the London School of Economics and author
of Iraq: from war to a new authoritarianism, said: "It was one hell of an
operation and speaks very much to the reconstitution of al-Qaeda's capacity.
It also shows a Keystone Cops element to the Iraqi government's response."
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