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Them’s the breaks, I guess

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick round up of prison breaks in Iraq, Libya and NW Pakistan ]

Mourners pray at the coffin of a victim killed during an attack on a prison in Taji, during a funeral at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, July 22, 2013 / credit: Reuters


On July 22 2013, eight days ago, AP reported Hundreds escape in deadly insurgent attacks on Iraq prisons holding al-Qaeda militants:

Iraqi security forces locked down areas around the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and another high-security detention facility on Baghdad’s outskirts Monday to hunt for escaped inmates and militants after daring insurgent assaults set hundreds of detainees free.

Clint Watts quoted Reuters in a post titled Al Qaeda in Iraq’s Prison Break – Not Good!, two days later:

Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launc hed a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.

and commented:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

Laconically, AP also noted:

Jailbreaks are relatively common in Iraq

— a phrase eerily reminiscent of AFP’s comment:

Jailbreaks and prison unrest are relatively common in Iraq

from way back in 2011, in a piece which included a reference to 2006:

Zambur said this was the third attempted jailbreak from the prison.

The first was in 2006, when about 50 members of the Mahdi Army, radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s now-deactivated militia, managed to escape.

Maybe it’s never-ending, this story.


Wind back just a year from today, though, to Bill Roggio‘s report Al Qaeda in Iraq claims nationwide attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis in the Long War Journal, July 25, 2012:

Baghdadi had originally announced the offensive in an audiotape released on July 21, just two days before the attack; it was his first audiotape announcement since becoming emir in 2010.

“We give you glad tidings of the commencement of a new phase from the phases of our struggle, which we begin with a plan that we have dubbed, ‘Destroying the Gates.’ We remind you of your top priority, which is to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere, and making the pursuit, chase, and killing of their butchers from amongst the judges, detectives, and guard to be on top of the list,” Baghdadi said in the July 21 statement that was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

So there we have it: “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere” is Baghdadi’s “top priority” for the campaign.

In the event, the targeting of that first wave of 2012 attacks was more widely drawn:

In today’s statement, the ISI said that its “War Ministry” organized the offensive and deliberately targeted the military, government agencies, and both Shia and Sunni groups that have opposed al Qaeda.
“The chosen targets were accurately distributed over governmental headquarters, security and military centers, and the lairs of Rafidah [Shi’ite] evil, heads of the Safavid [Iranian] government and its people, and its Sunni traitor lackeys [Awakening councils and Sunni political parties] who sold the religion, the honor and the land, and made the lands of the Muslims permissible along with their cities to the dirtiest people on the earth and the lowest of evils,” the statement continued.


About three months later, on October 12, 2012 Roggio wrote in LWJ Al Qaeda in Iraq claims credit for Tikrit jailbreak:

The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq’s political front, claimed credit for a complex assault on the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit that freed more than 100 prisoners, including dozens of terrorists.

In a statement that was released yesterday on jihadist Internet forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the Islamic State of Iraq said it executed the Sept. 27 prison break. The terror group said the operation was part of its “Destroying the Walls” campaign, which was announced at the end of July by Abu Du’a, the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir. In that statement, Abu Du’a said that emphasis would be placed on efforts “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere.”

Now that’s what you might legitimately call “first priority” targeting.


So that’s our background, up to about a week ago when the latest Abu Ghraib prison break took place.

And since then?

Well, as reported on July 27, More than 1,000 inmates escape from Libyan prison near Benghazi in mass jailbreak — and Reuters reports:

Officials said there had been an attack on the facility from the outside, as well as a riot


And AP reported on the 29th, updated early this morning, Pakistani Taliban fighters overwhelmed guards in prison attack:

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — Prison guards said Tuesday that they were totally overwhelmed when around 150 heavily armed Taliban fighters staged a late-night attack on their jail in northwest Pakistan, freeing over 250 prisoners including over three dozen suspected militants.

It was the second such attack by the Taliban on a prison in the northwest within the last 18 months. But even so, the security forces were totally unprepared for the raid, despite senior prison officials having received intelligence indicating an attack was likely.

As Clint Watts said way up above, so say the Pakistani security folk:

Well, at least we didn’t see this coming.

5 Responses to “Them’s the breaks, I guess”

  1. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’ve just seen Joshua Foust’s excellent write-up of the Iraq prison breaks, Iraq’s Descent Into Madness, With No Americans in Sight, with a significant tie-in to Gregory Johnsen’s reporting on the prison break in Yemen:

    There is reason to worry about last week’s prison break. Gregory D. Johnsen, an expert on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wrote in 2009 about how a similar 2006 prison break in Yemen led to the creation of AQAP.
    It’s too soon to tell if the Abu Ghraib break will be as consequential for Iraq. But the Iraqi government faces enormous challenges in responding to al Qaeda’s resurgence without additional outside help

    See also:

    Geoffrey Ingersoll in Business Insider, Recent Prison Breaks Are Fueling Al Qaeda’s Global Comeback
    Alex Strick van Linschoten’s interview from May 2011, The Taliban’s Account of Kandahar Jailbreak (h/t Suzanne Schroeder)

  2. T. Greer Says:

    The War Nerd had a good column up this week (would link but they always put their articles behind a paywall after 1 day) on this topic. He suggests the the 400 or so fighters pulled from the prison are headed to Syria, to back up AQI’s claim of seniority over Syrian branches.
    Also worth noting is the sheer complexity of these operations. A prison break – especially an urban one – is hard. You have to some how sneak your 50 to 150 fighters into the prison’s neighborhood without alerting suspicion, physically break through the prison without killing the prisoners, overwhelm the guards, and then hardest of all, make a clean get away with the hundreds of people you just released. American history has plenty of botched prison breaks to its force’s name. These are very well put together attacks.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, TGreer. As you say, the column is behind a paywall, but the opening is worth noting:

    The Jihadis thought they’d figured out every angle. They’d been watching Abu Ghraib for months, timing the guards’ shifts, bringing in mortars, RPG launchers, suicide vests, volunteers. But there was one thing they hadn’t counted on: Kate Middleton’s sluggish gestation clock.

    Publicity is the oxygen of terror.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    This up today: 

    Al-Qaida: We will try to free Guantánamo inmates
    Al-Qaida’s leader says a prisoner hunger strike in Guantánamo Bay has revealed the “odious” face of America and claims that the terror network will spare no effort to free prisoners held at the US military-run detention center in Cuba.
    Ayman Al-Zawahri spoke in a 22-minute audio message posted on the Internet on Wednesday, the same day a U.S. Army spokesman said 66 captives were on hunger strike, 42 of them on a list for force-feedings by tubes if they wouldn’t drink a can of nutritional supplement.
    “The strike by our brothers in Guantánamo reveals the real odious and ugly face of America,” Zawahri said. “We pledge God that we will spare no efforts to set them free,” he said
    Most of the 166 prisoners at Guantánamo began a hunger strike earlier this year to protest conditions and their indefinite confinement.
    “We pledge God that we will spare no efforts to set them free along with all our prisoners, on top of them Omar Abdel Rahman, Aafia Siddiqui, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and every oppressed Muslim everywhere,” he added.

    So that’s AQC in on the act, or should I say the intent, too.

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    And today, Interpol on “prison escapes across nine INTERPOL member countries in the past month alone”:

    INTERPOL issues global security alert advising increased vigilance for terrorist activity
    LYON, France – Following a series of prison escapes across nine INTERPOL member countries in the past month alone, including in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters has issued a global security alert advising increased vigilance.
    With suspected Al Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the INTERPOL alert requests the Organization’s 190 member countries’ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events are coordinated or linked.
    INTERPOL is asking its member countries to closely follow and swiftly process any information linked to these events and the escaped prisoners. They are also requested to alert the relevant member country and INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.
    Staff at INTERPOL’s 24-hour Command and Coordination Centre and other specialized units are also prioritizing all information and intelligence in relation to the breakouts or terrorist plots in order to immediately inform relevant member countries of any updates.

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