Al-Qa'ida-linked detainees at an Iraqi detention facility tried to overpower their guards during a prison break Sunday morning in a violent clash that left 17 people dead, including six police officers, officials said.
Among the detainees killed was the man accused of plotting the attack last October on a Baghdad church that left 68 people dead.
The melee at the Ministry of Interior's Baghdad compound raises questions about how a group of prisoners at what is supposed to be one of the most secure facilities in the country managed to launch such a fierce attack.
The detainees, who were accused of belonging to al-Qa'ida in Iraq, were being moved from a detention room to an interrogation room at the sprawling ministry compound in eastern Baghdad when one of the detainees attacked a guard and wrestled away his weapon, said Qassim al-Moussawi, the top military spokesman in Baghdad.
The detainee killed the guard and then swiftly moved into one of the rooms and killed another guard and took his weapon, al-Moussawi said. In all, the detainees managed to seize four weapons including a Kalashnikov rifle.
The prisoners also entered the office of Brigadier Muaeid Mohammed Saleh, the head of a department responsible for combating terrorism and organized crime in eastern Baghdad, and shot him along with another officer who was in the room, al-Moussawi said.
Al-Moussawi said the assault by the prisoners was not spontaneous but appeared to have been plotted ahead of time. He said six police and 11 detainees were killed in the ensuing melee which lasted for nearly three hours before Iraqi security forces managed to bring the situation under control.
Al-Moussawi said the detainees were not shackled or restrained at the time. He said that is standard practice but that in this case, considering the fact that the detainees included prisoners accused of being involved in al-Qa'ida, they should have been restrained.
"I blame the security measures in this case because they were senior terrorists," he said. "Tight security measures should have been taken."
An interior ministry official on the scene said the guards violated procedure by keeping their weapons with them when moving the prisoners. Usually when prisoners are taken into the investigation room their restraints are removed but guards are not supposed to have their weapons on them at the time.
The official said about 20 to 25 prisoners were involved in the melee.
An additional eight police officers and six detainees were wounded, security and hospital officials said.
Among the detainees were accused al-Qa'ida in Iraq members believed to be involved in the attack last October on a Baghdad church that left 68 people dead, al-Moussawi said.
The injured detainees were brought to Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital under tight security, treated and then taken away again by security officials to an unidentified location, officials said.
All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
It is the latest embarrassing incident for Iraq related to its detention facilities.
In January, 12 inmates, many believed to have links to al-Qa'ida in Iraq, were awaiting trial in a temporary detention center in the southern city of Basra when they obtained uniforms and walked out in disguise. They scattered after that to avoid a massive manhunt. At least two were later picked up by security officials in northern Iraq.Reuse content