TIKRIT, Iraq — Iraqi security forces Friday hunted for dozens of Al-Qaeda-linked inmates who escaped during an attack on a prison in the city of Tikrit that left at least 13 policemen dead, officials said.
The violence at the prison comes after Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group announced a campaign to regain territory and said it aimed to help its jailed members escape.
“Security forces were able to detain 33 of the escaped inmates, and there are still about 75 others” at large, Mohammed Hassan Attiya, the head of the Salaheddin provincial council security committee, said, adding that “operations to pursue them are continuing.”
“All of these inmates are Iraqi and members of the Al-Qaeda organization,” he said, and most have been sentenced to death.
Attiya said police were responsible for the incident, blaming “their weakness and their corruption.”
Salaheddin deputy governor Ahmed Abdul Jabbar said that the Tikrit prison had been retaken from militants who seized it Thursday night, but that 83 prisoners escaped. A hospital official in Tikrit said 13 police were killed and 34 wounded in the violence.
A source in the Salaheddin police command said, meanwhile, that 15 policemen and seven prisoners were killed, and put the number of escaped prisoners at about 100.
“We took control of the prison, and the gunmen handed over their weapons,” the official said. A source in the Salaheddin governor’s office said that the provincial police chief was to be sacked over the incident.
Accounts differed on the specifics of the unrest, but it appears militants attacked from outside the prison, while inmates may have seized weapons from guards inside.
A police lieutenant colonel said Thursday that a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at the gate of the prison, after which it was assaulted by gunmen.
And a traffic police lieutenant colonel who was near the scene of the attack said militants blew up part of the prison fence, and between 30 and 40 inmates were able to escape. A police colonel said a riot broke out in the prison, while witnesses said inmates seized the guards’ weapons, and that more than 100 of them escaped and fought security forces in the surrounding area.
The tactics reportedly employed in the assault were reminiscent of those used in attacks in July and August.
Last September, 35 prisoners facing terrorism charges escaped via a sewage pipe from a temporary jail in the city of Mosul.
In Basra Friday, gunmen shot dead the former governor, Mohammed Al-Wailie, as he was driving his car. — Agencies