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Al Qa'eda-linked inmates flee Iraq prison

A huge manhunt is underway for five al Qa'eda-linked prisoners awaiting execution and 11 other inmates who broke out of a prison in Tikrit.

Five al Qa'eda-linked prisoners awaiting execution and 11 other inmates broke out of a prison in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, prompting a massive manhunt, officials said. A complete curfew was imposed on the city of 250,000 after the prisoners escaped at about 11.15pm on Wednesday. Checkpoints have been set up throughout the city today and at roads leading out, a Tikrit police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the operation with media.

The prisoners were being held on charges including terrorism, kidnapping and murder, and the majority have links to al Qa'eda in Iraq, the officer said. Some are still awaiting sentencing, but five were slated for execution on terrorism convictions, the officer said. One of the five was recaptured early today in the Tikrit area - a 19-year-old from a town near the city. An Iraqi military spokesman Maj Gen Abdul-Karim Khalaf would not comment on the inmates' possible links to al Qa'eda, saying only that six of the escaped convicts are considered "dangerous". The police officer said authorities found a pipe wrench in a bathroom in the prison yard, which the inmates apparently used to open a ventilation window.

Maj Gen Khalaf would give no details on the prisoners or how they escaped, but said authorities were distributing wanted posters with photos of the fugitives. Extra surveillance has also been ordered at Iraq's borders and throughout the northwest of the country, Maj Gen Khalaf said. The facility from which the inmates escaped was a makeshift prison, built on the compound of one of Saddam's former palaces. Inmates were housed in a former school of Islamic studies, surrounded by tall concrete blast walls and guard towers.

*AP

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