Iraqi insurgents stage deadly prison attacks
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Some 25 people were killed Sunday when insurgents blew up cars at the gates of two major Iraqi prisons in co-ordinated attacks that the Islamist assailants claim freed “thousands” of prisoners while police put the number at at least 500.
Gunmen attacked two Iraqi jails in a bid to free prisoners on Sunday night, killing at least 25 people in fierce clashes that raged well into the morning.
The co-ordinated attacks on the prisons of Taji and Abu Ghraib, north and west of Baghdad respectively, were launched on Sunday night and lasted for around 10 hours, officials said on Monday.
Islamists claimed on the Internet that thousands of prisoners were freed during the attacks, although an MP said that at least 500 inmates had escaped from Abu Ghraib.
Officials speaking anonymously told AP that some 25 members of the security forces were killed at the two prisons and at least 40 others were injured.
It was not immediately known how many of the assailants were killed, wounded or captured.
Car bombs and helicopters
The attacks were launched at around 9.30pm local time, when gunmen fired mortar shells at the prisons.
Explosives on board cars were then detonated near the entrances to the jails, while three suicide bombers attacked Taji prison, said the police colonel.
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, according to the colonel.
"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 late 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.
Commentors on micro-blogging website Twitter, including some accounts apparently operated by jihadists, claimed thousands of prisoners had escaped.
The attacks on the prisons came a year after al Qaeda'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 last year.
Prisons in Iraq are periodically hit by escape attempts, uprisings and other unrest.
Abu Ghraib is notorious for abuses committed by US forces against Iraqi detainees in 2004.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)