Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Hundreds battle against guards in Afghan prison

AP , KABUL

Hundreds of inmates including terrorist convicts clashed with guards in a failed attempt to break out of a high-security prison in Kabul and then took control of parts of the facility, officials said yesterday.

Abdul Salaam Bakshi, chief of prisons in Afghanistan, said that guards had been forced out of a block of Policharki Prison, housing 1,300 inmates including al-Qaeda and Taliban convicts, on Saturday night.

Mohammed Qasim Hashimzai, deputy justice minister, said some inmates had been injured but prisoners had refused an offer for them to be treated.

He said some inmates were still trying to escape, and about 100 of them had taken control of a women's wing of the prison.

Reporters outside Policharki heard a short burst of gunfire yesterday morning. A few minutes later, an ambulance carrying an unidentified patient drove out of the prison.

Baskhi said police were surrounding the prison and no inmates had escaped.

"All the problem is inside the prison. It's 1,300 people. We want to peacefully solve this problem," he said, accusing the al-Qaeda and Taliban inmates of inciting other inmates.

A justice ministry delegation was visiting the prison on the outskirts of the Afghan capital yesterday morning to negotiate with the prisoners.

"They have demands, we are going to listen to what they want," Hashimzai said.

"If we cannot solve it that through negotiations, we have our own options," he added, but refused to say if that meant using force.

He said the trouble started when hundreds of inmates tried to break out on Saturday night from Block 2 of the prison -- which houses various criminals and some 350 Taliban, convicted militants among them.

Bakshi said the inmates had attacked guards and tried to force their way out of their prison block but were stopped. He said the inmates had small knives and clubs fashioned from wrecked furniture but none were armed. They had also set fire to bedding.

No guards were hurt in the clash, he said.

Policharki has suffered break-outs and riots before.

In December 2004, four inmates and four guards died during a 10-hour standoff that started when some inmates from al-Qaeda used razors to wrest some guns from guards and then tried to break out. Afghan troops stormed the prison and fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades to retake control.

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