Afghan troops stormed a notorious prison in a hail of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, ending a 10-hour standoff that began when four inmates once suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda tried to escape. Four inmates and four guards were killed in the violence.
Explosions rocked the crumbling, overcrowded Pul-e Charkhi jail -- which holds Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects as well as common criminals -- on Friday, as troops launched the assault just after nightfall.
The standoff began in the morning when four inmates -- three Pakistanis and an Iraqi -- used razors to attack a guard leading them to morning prayers. They took his AK-47 rifle, then beat and stabbed him to death, said Abdul Salam Bakhshi, the prison warden.
A gunbattle ensued that killed three other guards and two of the would-be escapees. The two surviving inmates, both Pakistani, scavenged a second gun and barricaded themselves with both rifles on the jail's war-damaged second floor, Bakhshi said.
They remained holed up for 10 hours, taking potshots at hundreds of security personnel ringing the jail, keeping them from reaching three wounded soldiers inside the complex.
In the evening assault, one soldier was wounded. Another soldier who called himself Zabullah came out, still panting, and told reporters: "We killed them."
After one last burst of gunfire, troops were visibly relaxed and went through the pitch-black area with flashlights.
"We searched all the rooms, and it's now under control, so we're leaving," said Amin Jan, an army commander.
Also at the prison are three Americans who are serving sentences of eight to 10 years for torturing Afghans on a freelance hunt for terrorists. Jonathan Idema, Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo are seeking to overturn their convictions in a trial that embarrassed US and NATO forces and sowed confusion about Washington's role in Afghanistan.
Idema's attorney, John Tiffany, said his client called him from the prison and said the Americans had been targeted for death by the four inmates who attempted the jailbreak.
Idema made other claims during his sometimes-bizarre trial, saying he was in daily contact with US officials "at the highest level," including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office -- but the US government has described him as a vigilante working on his own. He had also accused the FBI of orchestrating his arrest.
During the standoff, about 200 police were deployed outside the prison, joined by four German armored personnel carriers from the NATO-run International Security Assistance Force that keeps peace in the capital.
The four men who tried to escape had all once been held in a northern jail run by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, one of country's most powerful warlords, on suspicion of fighting alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban, though they were all released earlier this year, suggesting they were not considered high-level militants.
As the standoff dragged on past nine hours, five truckloads of Afghan soldiers arrived and fanned out to the front and back of the prison's thick stone walls. Several soldiers already had taken up positions on the roof.