Gunmen attack two prisons in Iraq including Abu Ghraib

Gunmen attack two prisons in Iraq including Abu Ghraib

BAGHDAD - Agence France-Presse
Gunmen attack two prisons in Iraq including Abu Ghraib

A woman cleans up the aftermath of a car bomb attack in the neighborhood of Tobjee in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, July 21, 2013. AP photo

At least 41 people have been killed in clashes that raged overnight after militants launched coordinated attacks on two Iraqi prisons in an attempt to free inmates, officials said today.

The prison attacks that began late July 22 at lock-ups in Taji and Abu Ghraib, both in the outskirts of the capital, were the latest indication of deteriorating security conditions across the country. At least 20 members of the Iraqi security forces and 21 prisoners died in the violence while dozens of people were wounded, the officials said, without providing any figures for casualties among the assailants.

Attackers detonated bombs and lobbed mortar rounds at Taji prison, 20 kilometers north of Baghdad. A suicide car bomber then attacked the main gate while another suicide bomber blew himself up nearby, sparking clashes between militants and the guards, according to police. As the battle raged for about two hours outside, rioting inmates set fire to blankets and furniture, police said.

At least ‘500 escaped’

A similar raid unfolded at the prison in Abu Ghraib in Baghdad’s western suburbs. Insurgents there struck the prison walls with mortar rounds and a car bomb, and at least one militant blew himself up at the main gate. Abu Ghraib became notorious after photographs showing Iraqi detainees being humiliated and abused by their U.S. guards were published in 2004. It also served as a torture centre under executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.

“About 500 prisoners escaped from Abu Ghraib,” Hakem al-Zamili, a member of the parliamentary security and defence committee said.

The situation was eventually brought under control yesterday morning, according to the colonel, adding that government forces were continuing to comb the surrounding areas for attackers.

“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. “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.

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.

In a separate incident early yesterday, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laded car into an army patrol in northern part of Iraq, killing at least 12 people. The suicide bomber hit the patrol while traveling in a residential area in the city of Mosul, killing nine soldiers and three civilians, a police officer said. He added that 14 others, included four civilians, were wounded.

A surge of attacks has killed more than 450 Iraqis since the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on July 10.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.