Hundreds of Al Qaeda Militants Escaped From Abu Ghraib

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Several hundred prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq escaped this weekend after a late-night militant assault on the facility last Saturday. The escaped inmates, at least 500 of them in all, include many top Al Qaeda officials. 

This story broke over the weekend, but didn't really start to gain traction until a Reuters report on the incident went up on Monday afternoon. Speaking to officials at the prison, the agency explains how the coordinated attack unfolded: 

Suicide bombers drove cars packed with explosives to the gates of the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday night and blasted their way into the compound, while gunmen attacked guards with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

Other militants took up positions near the main road, fighting off security reinforcements sent from Baghdad as several militants wearing suicide vests entered the prison on foot to help free the inmates.

It took officials until Monday to regain control, once military helicopters arrived. But by then, hundreds of prisoners were free. The deadly attack killed four militants and ten policemen. The attack was just one of two similar prison attacks over the weekend. A second assault, on a prison in Taji, did not result in any escapes. The Taji prison also houses Al Qaeda leaders. 

According to Sky News, many of the escaped prisoners were on death row. Guards at the prison were able to recapture "some" of the escapees, but it sounds like quite a few managed to slip away in the chaos following the assault. The attacks come in the midst of a wave of coordinated attacks across the country that began earlier this month, around the start of Ramadan. Over 70 people died as a result of the attacks, including car bombings, on Saturday alone, with over a dozen more killed on Sunday. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.