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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Al-Qaeda leaders escape from jail

Al-Qaeda leaders escape from jail

Hugh Tomlinson Baghdad
Last updated July 24 2010 12:01AM

An administrative error appears to have contributed to the escape of three al-Qaeda leaders less than a week after it was handed over to Iraq control by US forces. The Iraqi Government said yesterday that a total of four men escaped from the Camp Cropper detention centre on Tuesday night, including the Finance, Interior and Justice Ministers of the Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for al-Qaeda.

Government sources said that the men were assisted in their escape by four prison guards, who have also disappeared. A manhunt has begun but Baghdad blamed the US for failing to alert the Government to the men’s profile and keep them in the jail’s maximum-security wing, which is still under American control.

Camp Cropper, the last US-run detention centre in Iraq, was handed over to local security forces on July 14. At Baghdad’s request, however, US troops have maintained an enclave within the facility containing about 200 inmates believed to present the greatest security risk.

The four men who escaped were not being held in this section, making it much easier for them to flee. “The Americans have kept the most dangerous prisoners. If these four are so dangerous, why give them to the Iraqi Government?” Dara Noureddin, the Iraqi Justice Minister, said.

The Justice Ministry complained before the handover at Cropper that it had no idea who was being held in the jail or who the 200 high-security prisoners were.

The US military declined to comment on the incident but insisted that the Iraqi Government had received details of the inmates at Cropper before the handover. Neither side would explain who had responsibility for drawing up the list of high-profile prisoners or why the three al-Qaeda commanders were not on it.

The affair is another embarrassment for the Iraqi justice system, coming only days after it emerged that the killer of British aid worker Margaret Hassan escaped custody more than two months ago. Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, serving life for murdering Mrs Hassan in 2008, has been on the run since mid-May, but Iraqi prison authorities admitted that he had escaped only last week when he failed to appear for a court hearing.

Iraq is taking full control of law and order across the country as the US prepares to end seven years of combat operations from September 1, withdrawing 25,000 troops over the coming month.

The breakout at Cropper was not discovered until Wednesday morning. How the men made their getaway was still not clear. A hole was found cut in the prison fence but government sources said that they believed this was a decoy. An investigation has started to find other potential al-Qaeda sympathisers among the prison guards.

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