A desperate hunt was under way yesterday for more than 1,100 prisoners who escaped a jail in southern Afghanistan when Taliban rebels blasted it open, killing 15 guards, officials said.
The Taliban said 400 of its own fighters escaped when the rebels attacked the facility in the city of Kandahar late on Friday, blasting it open with suicide bombs before shooting the guards.
They spent two months planning the raid, which Afghan Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai said was their most sophisticated yet.
“A massive operation is under way to find the escaped inmates. The Afghan security forces are searching for them within the city and along the main and secondary roads,” Hashimzai said in the capital, Kabul.
None of the escaped inmates has yet been caught, he said.
“Afghanistan national security forces and ISAF forces have cordoned off the area to re-establish security and recapture the escapees,” said General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
“More than 1,100 prisoners were able to escape,” said a Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, calling from an unknown location.
Ahmadi said the rebels used suicide bombs and detonated a bomb-laden water tanker in the attack.
“First we exploded two suicide attacks and then our mujahidin [holy warriors] riding motorcycles entered the prison and killed the remaining security guards,” he said.
“We successfully freed all prisoners, including our jailed Taliban and other prisoners,” he said.
A statement posted on the Web site of the Taliban later said about 400 Taliban-linked militants and several hundred other inmates were freed from the prison.
The statement, signed by Ahmadi, said the rebels had planned the attack two months ago.
“Today we succeeded,” it said, adding the raid was part of an operation called Ibrat, which means “lesson,” that was declared at the beginning of this year.
A reporter based in the southern city said large numbers of security forces including those of the US-trained Afghan national army had been deployed to search vehicles.
Authorities had so far recovered the bodies of at least 15 security guards, Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar Provincial Council and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.
“We’ve discovered the bodies of 15 security guards who were killed in the attack. The casualties might be more,” Karzai said.
“Several hundred prisoners including Taliban have escaped,” he said, without giving a precise figure.
The Taliban have been battling the Afghan government since they were toppled from power in a US-led operation for failing to hand over al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2001.
The raid is a blow to the president, coming one day after world donors pledged US$20 billion to rebuild Afghanistan at a conference in Paris but also called on him to strengthen the rule of law.
Despite the presence of about 70,000 international troops mainly operating under NATO, the insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Kabul has gained pace in the past two years.
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