Gunmen bust 140 prisoners from Iraqi jail

MOSUL - Suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen stormed a troubled Iraqi jail on Tuesday and freed at least 140 prisoners, the chairman of the area's provincial security committee told AFP.

Hasham al-Hamadani of Nineveh province's security council said fighters loyal to Al-Qaeda kingpin Omar al-Baghdadi had infiltrated the area around the northern city of Mosul and masterminded the jailbreak.

Foreign Arab extremist fighters were among the prisoners freed in the attack on Badush prison, an Iraqi government facility outside the city, he added.

Hamadani said his committee had received intelligence that the jail break was the first in a series of planned attacks and that he feared Al-Qaeda fighters were armed with toxic dirty bombs.

"They attacked the prison today with a large number of insurgents armed with light and medium weapons, like machine guns. They didn't face much resistance from the guards, because they overwhelmed them," he said.

"They were driving Opel sedans and pick ups," he said. "The entered the jail and freed between 140 and 150 prisoners, including Arabs and foreign fighters. A US helicopter arrived and opened fire, killing five escapees.

"The prison is now under control again, since American forces arrived."

A local security official and state television confirmed the escape.

At the start of the year Badush jail was holding 1,200 of the most dangerous prisoners in Iraq, including 100 foreign fighters, when its new director, Lieutenant Colonel Ali Mahmud, took over following a scandal.

The prison's former director was arrested in December after defunct dictator Saddam Hussein's nephew Ayman Ibrahim al-Hassan escaped.

03/06/2007 18:27 GMT

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