Skip to main content

Militant group claims responsibility for Iraq prison attacks

By Saad Abedine, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 4:25 AM EDT, Wed July 24, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: At least 16 people are killed in explosions and shooting Tuesday, police say
  • Analyst: "This takes the cake ... given the scale of the operation, its potential impact"
  • State-run TV reports that guards at Abu Ghraib were complicit in escapes
  • Al Qaeda group claims responsibility; at least 500 inmates reportedly escape

(CNN) -- An al Qaeda group claimed responsibility Tuesday for coordinated attacks on two Iraqi prisons that a lawmaker said freed more than 500 inmates, including some senior members of the militant group.

Militants supported by suicide bombers and armed with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns attacked two Iraqi prisons Sunday and Monday as inmates inside rioted and set fires, ending in a massive jailbreak, authorities said.

The attacks occurred Sunday night at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and al-Taji prison, north of the capital.

At least 21 inmates and at least eight prison guards were killed, the Iraqi Justice Ministry said, while 25 inmates and 14 guards were wounded.

What do prison attacks mean for region?

Blast during sermon in Iraq mosque kills at least 18

The Justice Ministry did not say how many inmates had escaped, but lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili said Monday that more than 500 fighters had gotten away.

A statement posted on radical Islamist websites and purporting to be from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed responsibility for the attacks and said that "more than 500 of the best jihadi fighters" were among the freed inmates.

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the statement, which was signed by the group's Information Ministry instead of the more usual official media wing.

State-run TV Al Iraqiya reported that guards at Abu Ghraib, also known as Baghdad Central Prison, facilitated the prison break. Al Iraqiya ran part of an interview with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who said "the guards who were present inside the prison were part of this militia, they were complicit, and they are the ones who opened the prison gates."

Al Iraqiya TV also reported that the Ministry of Interior had arrested a number of the escapees, but the report did not specify a number or from which prison they had escaped.

Ramzy Mardini, adjunct fellow at the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies, compared the attacks to a previous prison break in Yemen. Many of those who escaped then belonged to al Qaeda.

"Like in Yemen in 2006, this could be al Qaeda's so-called great escape moment in Iraq, whereby a prison break is large and significant enough to exhibit noticeable impact on the insurgency and the group's effectiveness for the foreseeable future," Mardini wrote in an e-mail to CNN.

"Al Qaeda has certainly proven its reach over the past year to still exhibit a capacity to pull off high-profile and coordinated attacks. But this takes the cake, especially given the scale of the operation, its potential impact and the fortified nature of the target," he said.

Mardini described the attacks as al Qaeda's "best advertisement" in terms of propaganda since 2009 bombings in Baghdad.

Bombers strike in Iraq; more than 20 dead

Meanwhile, at least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded in a new wave of explosions and shooting in Baghdad and Mosul on Tuesday, according to police officials.

Three roadside bombs exploded in rapid succession near a popular restaurant in southern Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 28 others. A car bomb and two roadside bombs outside a Sunni mosque, also in southern Baghdad, killed four people and wounded 15 more, officials said.

In western Mosul, the northern Iraq metropolis, gunmen at a livestock market killed three Shiite people, who police said were visiting from Baghdad. Two prison guards were shot dead in eastern Mosul.

Attacks on Monday also rocked Mosul. A suicide bomber blew himself up at an Iraqi army post in northern Mosul's Kokjili district in the morning, police said. At least 16 people were killed and 21 were wounded. Both civilians and soldiers were among the victims.

Later, at least four people were killed and two were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in the al-Muthana neighborhood of central Mosul, police said.

The deadly fighting is the latest in a string of violence in recent months, much of it stemming from discord between Sunnis and Shiites. Sunnis have long felt politically marginalized under a Shiite-led government in the post-Saddam Hussein era. They enjoyed more political clout during Hussein's rule before his ouster after the U.S.-led 2003 invasion.

See also: Baghdad bombings target mostly Shiite neighborhoods

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT