Four Al Qaeda in Iraq militants escape from U.S. custody

Share via

Four inmates affiliated with the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq broke out of the U.S.-guarded wing of an Iraqi prison in a major breach of security, Iraqi and American officials said Thursday.

The wing, policed by U.S. forces, holds former officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime and dangerous members of Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim extremist groups. The Americans had controlled the entire facility until July, when it handed over to the Iraqis all but one area called Compound 5.

The Americans are holding 200 detainees considered extremely dangerous or too politically sensitive to turn over to the Iraqis. They cite Iraq’s failure to form a government after March elections as one reason to continue to hold some controversial figures from Hussein’s time.


The U.S. military has planned to hand over the detainees to the Iraqi government next year before the scheduled departure of the remaining U.S. troops. It was unclear whether the escape would change that arrangement.

Deputy Justice Minister Basho Ibrahim said the Americans had informed him four members of Al Qaeda in Iraq had escaped. Police sealed off adjacent neighborhoods as they conducted a manhunt, one Iraqi security official said.

A U.S. military statement said a guard had discovered two inmates fleeing the prison grounds Wednesday night. They were apprehended, but a sweep of the prison block discovered four men had escaped.

The escapees were not identified.

On July 15, the U.S. military handed over formal control of 1,500 detainees at Karkh Prison, and a week later four members of Al Qaeda in Iraq escaped. Iraqi officials blamed the U.S., saying the Americans had forced them to take on the warden, who had worked with the U.S. Army.

Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite politician, said the U.S. military needed to be more careful of whom it listened to in Iraq. He speculated that Iraqis working with the U.S. army in its section of Karkh may have abetted the breakout.

“They should consider who they employ from the Iraqis,” Chalabi said

Iraqi detainees have previously escaped from U.S.-run detention centers. In April 2005, 11 Iraqis fled its Camp Bucca facility in southern Iraq, and in 2006 five detainees escaped from a compound in northern Iraq.


Salman is a Times staff writer.