4 Iraqis linked to al-Qaida escape US custody in Baghdad maximum-security prisonBy Qassim Abdul-zahra, AP
Thursday, September 9, 2010
4 al-Qaida prisoners escape US custody in Iraq
BAGHDAD — Four prisoners with links to al-Qaida being guarded by American troops escaped from a maximum-security prison in Baghdad and are still at large, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The breakout from Karkh Prison, formerly called Camp Cropper, is an embarrassment for the U.S. military, which has handed over control of all of the detention facilities it used to run to the Iraqi government. But at the request of the Iraqis, the U.S. has retained custody over some of the most dangerous prisoners, including those with ties to terrorist groups or Saddam Hussein’s former regime.
U.S. troops found two detainees attempting to escape from the compound on Wednesday evening, the military said in a statement. When they conducted a sweep of the whole facility, they discovered that four other detainees were missing.
“U.S. Forces-Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces and the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) are working to apprehend these individuals,” said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, head of American detainee operations in Iraq. “This event is under investigation.”
There was no details on how the escape happened, who was to blame or who the people were that escaped.
An Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told The Associated Press that the Americans informed them Thursday morning that four Iraqis being held by the U.S. had broken out of the facility, although it was not clear exactly when or how they escaped.
He said the men were linked to al-Qaida and facing the death penalty.
The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed the prison break during a high-level meeting Thursday, said an official with knowledge of the meeting.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Austin apologized to al-Maliki and said the people responsible for the escape would be held accountable.
This is not the first time that prisoners have broken out of American-run detention facilities in Iraq; 11 Iraqis broke out of the U.S.’s Camp Bucca in April 2005 although many were later recaptured. A month earlier U.S. officials there discovered a 600-foot tunnel leading out of Camp Bucca.
In 2006, five detainees escaped from the Fort Suse Theater internment facility near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad; they were later apprehended by Kurdish security officials.
An Iraqi security official said troops cordoned off the area near the prison — including the Jihad neighborhood and the airport, where the facility is located, as part of the search for the fugitives. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Jihad residents said there was an intense Iraqi military presence in the neighborhood, and locals were banned from driving.
On July 15, the U.S. military handed over about 1,500 prisoners to Iraqi authorities during the changing of the guard at Camp Cropper, but continued to hold on to some 200 detainees at the request of the Iraqi government. They are kept in a separate part of the prison dubbed Compound 5, and guarded by American soldiers.
The prisoners who remain in U.S custody are “former regime elements, al-Qaida operatives and very dangerous detainees,” said Cannon during a previous interview. He said they would eventually be handed over to the Iraqi government before American forces pull out of the country entirely by the end of next year.
Thursday’s escape is the second since the U.S. transferred custody of the detention facility to the Iraqis.
Just a week after the handover, four al-Qaida-linked detainees awaiting trial on terrorism charges escaped from the Iraqi section of the prison.
The $48 million complex has been used by U.S. forces since April 2003 and can hold up to 4,000 prisoners. It’s now divided into six detainee compounds, and is manned by 700 Iraqi corrections officers and about 100 support staff.
The prison once held Saddam Hussein and other senior members of his regime.
Also on Thursday, gunmen broke into the house of a prominent Sunni cleric and decapitated him before setting his body on fire, police officials said.
The cleric, Sheik Abdul-Jabar Saleh al-Jabouri, was a preacher in a village near the city of Muqdadiyah, about 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Baghdad, an area that used to be an insurgent stronghold.
A spokesman for the Diyala police, Maj. Ghalib al-Karkhi, said the cleric ran a medical clinic in the area before becoming a preacher and treated wounded members of the local anti-al-Qaida militia.
These militias as well as people who assist them have often been targeted by insurgents trying to seek revenge or to intimidate others from working with the organization.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but al-Qaida-linked groups have often beheaded their victims.
Associated Press writers Barbara Surk and Rebecca Santana contributed to this report.
Tags: Baghdad, Correctional Systems, Iraq, Middle East, Ml-iraq, North America, Prison Breaks, United States