A manhunt is underway in Iraq for hundreds of convicts, including senior al Qaeda terrorists, who broke out of Abu Ghraib prison after a military-style raid to free them, authorities said on Monday.
“The number of escaped inmates has reached 500, most of them were convicted senior members of al Qaeda and had received death sentences,” said Hakim Zamili, a senior member of the security and defense committee in parliament.
Suicide bombers drove cars with explosives into the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night, while gunmen attacked guards. Other militants held the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad. Ten policemen and four militants were killed in the clashes, which continued until early Monday, when military helicopters arrived to help regain control.
By that time, hundreds of inmates had succeeded in fleeing Abu Ghraib. The security forces arrested some of them, the rest are still free, Zamili told Reuters.
A simultaneous attack on another prison, in Taji, to the north of Baghdad, had a similar scheme, but guards prevented a break-out. Sixteen soldiers and six militants were killed there.
Sunni rebels, including al Qaeda-affiliated Iraq, have been gaining strength and regularly striking Shiite Muslims and security forces. The violence has increased fears of a return to conflict in a country. In the city of Mosul to the north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle with explosives behind a military convoy, killing at least 22 soldiers and three passers-by, police reported.
Recent attacks have targeted mosques, football matches, shopping areas and cafes where people meet after breaking the daily fast for the holy month of Ramadan. Nearly 600 people have been killed in militant attacks across Iraq so far this month, according to the monitoring group Iraq Body Count.