x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Al Qa'eda chiefs flee prison

Thirteen people were killed during a daring pre-dawn prison breakout by al Qa'eda militants from a police station in Ramadi, Iraq.

Al Qa'eda militants launched a pre-dawn breakout from a police station in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi today, triggering a shootout that left 13 people dead. "During an exchange of fire between prisoners trying to escape and police officers in the station, six policemen and seven prisoners were killed," provincial police chief Tareq al Dulaimi said. Three prisoners managed to flee but one was re-arrested, Mr al Dulaimi said, adding another four policemen were wounded in the shootout that occurred at 2am at Forsan police station in the centre of Ramadi.

Ramadi police have imposed a curfew in the city following the incident, an interior ministry source said, adding that three fugitive al Qa'eda militants were "emirs" or local chiefs. The ministry source said a prisoner wanting to go to the toilet was escorted from his cell by a policeman, kicking off what appeared to be a well-planned operation. "The policeman was overpowered by the inmate who seized his weapon and shot him," the source said.

"He then opened up the other cells and and he and his fellow prisoners grabbed weapons from the police station's armoury, opening fire on the policemen." The prisoners battled police for two hours before officers managed to regain control of the station, a police official said, adding that the escaped men were identified as Iraqis linked to al Qa'eda. The recaptured prisoner suffered minor injuries, police said.

Today the streets of Ramadi, a city of 540,000, were deserted and shops were shut as a heavy police presence fanned out in an urgent search for the escapees. The predominantly Sunni Arab city, capital of Anbar province, was a key al Qa'eda stronghold in the aftermath of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. *AFP