Thursday, September 24, 2009

Al Qaeda group escapes Tikrit prison

It's not clear how many of these men are members of Al Qaeda.

NYT: 'Sixteen prisoners, including leaders of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups who had been sentenced to death, escaped from a prison in northern Iraq, in what officials described as a brazen breach of security that prompted a manhunt across a large part of the country on Thursday.'

BBC: 'Reports said five of the group, who were being held at a facility in Tikrit, had been sentenced to death for involvement in attacks.

A security official said that the men removed the windows from a bathroom, crawled through the opening and climbed a ladder over the prison walls.

One of the men has since been caught, but the rest remain at large.

Checkpoints have been set up around Tikrit, which is a predominantly Sunni town in Salah al-Din province about 80 miles (130km) from Baghdad.

Iraqi military spokesman Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf said extra surveillance had also been ordered at Iraq's borders and throughout the north-west of the country.

A senior provincial security official told AFP news agency that the escapees had probably received assistance from within the prison system.

"It is clear there was co-operation with specific groups that helped them escape. Probably one of the officials helped them," he said.

In a separate development, 24 people have been arrested in Morocco on suspicion of having links to a cell recruiting suicide bombers for Iraq, according to a state news agency.

It said the group, based in towns and cities across Morocco, was also suspected of recruiting men to fight in Somalia and Afghanistan.'

Update (Saturday, Sept 26): 'Also Saturday, the police said that they had captured two more suspects in a brazen escape from a detention center in the city of Tikrit on Wednesday in which 16 prisoners escaped, apparently by climbing out a bathroom window.

Among the escapees from the center, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, were members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni extremist group, who had been sentenced to death. Eight of the 16 men have been recaptured, the authorities said.

The entire staff of the detention center — more than 100 people — has been detained for questioning as part of an investigation into whether the prisoners had inside help, and the chief of the prison has been dismissed.'

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