Al-Qaida allies say they backed Iraq prison break

AP News
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Posted: May 12, 2011 1:38 PM
Al-Qaida allies say they backed Iraq prison break

Extremists linked to al-Qaida in Iraq boasted in a statement Thursday that they slipped guns and messages to inmates for weeks before a bloody _ but ultimately unsuccessful _ prison break this week that left 17 dead.

The statement by the Islamic State of Iraq did not explicitly say the inmates had inside help, but the new details strongly suggested that they did.

Militants in Baghdad were able "to infiltrate the building's security system weeks prior and to communicate with the detained group, to familiarize them with their plan of escape," the statement said.

"They managed, thanks to Allah and His success, to introduce three pistols into the rooms of the brothers in the solitary confinement area," it said. "All the components of the operation were completed inside and outside."

The Islamic State of Iraq is a front group for al-Qaida.

The statement identified the escape plot's ringleader as Abu Huthaifa al-Battawi, who was being held on charges of masterminding a Baghdad church siege that killed 68 parishioners, priests and guards last fall. Al-Battawi was shot and killed Sunday when he tried to flee, officials said.

Thursday's statement sought to paint a heroic picture of al-Battawi, saying he and other inmates returned to the shootout and "decided to fight till death."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters Wednesday the government was investigating whether the breakout was an inside job, acknowledging that the inmates had grenades and other weapons during the attack.

"How the weapons and grenades entered the prison, and who entered them, so I cannot discuss now but the investigations are continuing and have reached to an advanced stage," al-Maliki said.

The attempted jailbreak at what is supposed to be one of country's most secure prisons cast more doubt on whether Iraqi forces are ready to protect the nation alone as U.S. troops prepare to leave by December.

Earlier Thursday, police said a politician with the secular but Sunni-backed Iraqiya party was killed as she headed to her home in the northern city of Mosul, and an Iraqiya lawmaker escaped assassination when his house was bombed in Kirkuk.

Police in Kirkuk, another northern city rife with ethnic tensions, are questioning an estimated 30 guards who were stationed nearby for clues on how the attackers got so close to the house.

Violence has dropped dramatically around Iraq over the last several years, but extremists are seizing on the country's unstable political horizon to raise new threats against lawmakers and security forces.

Parliament finally approved three candidates for vice presidents on Thursday, nearly five months after the government was seated. Vice Presidents Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite, remained in the posts they have held for the last four years, and Khudayer al-Khuzaie, a Shiite from al-Maliki's Dawa party, got a newly created third seat.