BAGHDAD: An Al-Qaeda front group on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) claimed brazen assaults on Iraqi prisons that freed hundreds of militants including top leaders, killed over 40 people and threatened to further erode confidence in the government.
The attacks on the prisons in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, and Taji, north of the capital, illustrate both the growing reach of militants and the deteriorating security situation in Iraq.
Spiralling violence in the country has killed more than 630 people so far in July, making it the deadliest month of a year in which more than 2,900 have died in unrest.
“The mujahideen [holy warriors], after months of preparation and planning, targeted two of the largest prisons of the Safavid government,” said a statement signed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, using a pejorative term for Shiites.
The statement said “hundreds” of inmates, among them 500 militants, were freed in the attacks.
It also said the operation was the final one in a campaign aimed at freeing prisoners and targeting justice system officials, which was called for in an audio statement attributed to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, last year.
The statement, posted on a jihadist forum, came as security forces hunted for the escapees, said by MPs to number at least 500, before they are able to rejoin the ranks of the militants.
“Dark days are waiting for Iraq. Some of those who escaped are senior leaders of Al-Qaeda, and the operation was executed for this group of leaders,” a senior security official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.