x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Iraqi minister says four al Qa'eda inmates escape jail

Four al Qa'eda-linked detainees have escaped from a Baghdad area prison that was handed over by the US to Iraqi authorities a week ago.

BAGHDAD // Four al Qa'eda-linked detainees have escaped from a Baghdad area prison that was handed over by the US to Iraqi authorities a week ago, Iraq's justice minister have revealed. Dara Noureddin said yesterday that the four, awaiting trial on terrorism charges, escaped from the high security prison formerly known as Camp Cropper. The escape is the second to come to light in Iraq in about a week, and spotlights concerns about how prepared are Iraqi authorities to take full control of the country as US combat forces are to be sharply scaled back by next month.

The July 15 handover by US forces of the prison that once held Saddam Hussein and other senior members of his regime marked a milestone for Iraq's push to regain full sovereignty. It offered a new measure of pride in a nation where bombings and assassinations are still common and the formation of a new government has been stymied by politicians jostling for power since a March 7 parliamentary election.

Noureddin did not identify the men who escaped, but said they had been arrested by US forces following a clash with the men in 2008 in western Iraq. The US military said it had "no information to share" on the case and referred questions to the Iraqi government. Two Iraqi intelligence officials and a third in the Interior Ministry who are knowledgeable about the case said authorities believe the four men - whom they identified as al-Qa'eda members - were aided by the prison official in charge of their block.

The intelligence officials said the four were discovered missing on Tuesday during an evening roll call. When prison staff went to inform the unit head, they found that he, too, was missing. He has not reported for work since, the officials said. The intelligence officials said one of the escaped inmates is believed to be a senior member of the group, and had the title of finance minister of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qa'eda front group.

One intelligence official said the four men were officially listed in a security report as Mohammed Hamid, Qais Azmi, Malik Nazzal and Hussein Ahmed. The U.S. forces handed over about 1,500 prisoners to Iraqi authorities during the changing of the guard at Camp Cropper, but continue to hold 200 detainees at the request of the Iraqi government. They are kept in a separate part of the prison dubbed Compound 5.

* AP