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« on: Jun 14, 2008 11:03 AM »

Desperate hunt for 1,100 who fled Afghan jail in Taliban raid

2 hours ago

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) — A desperate hunt is under way for more than 1,100 prisoners who escaped a jail in southern Afghanistan when Taliban rebels blasted it open, killing 15 guards, officials said Saturday.

The Taliban said 400 of its own fighters escaped when the rebels attacked the facility in the city of Kandahar late Friday, blasting it open with suicide bombs before shooting the guards.

They spent two months planning the raid, which deputy justice minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai said was their most sophisticated yet.

"A massive operation is under way to find the escaped inmates. The Afghan security forces are searching for them within the city and along the main and secondary roads," Hashimzai told AFP in the capital, Kabul. None of the escaped inmates has yet been caught, he added.

"Afghanistan national security forces and ISAF forces have cordoned off the area to re-establish security and recapture the escapees," General Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO's International Security Assistance Force told AFP.

"More than 1,100 prisoners were able to escape,"

A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, calling AFP from an unknown location, said the rebels used suicide bombs and detonated a bomb-laden water tanker in the attack.

"First we exploded two suicide attacks and then our mujahedin (holy warriors) riding motorcycles entered the prison and killed the remaining security guards.

"We successfully freed all prisoners, including our jailed Taliban and other prisoners," he told AFP.

A statement posted on the Taliban website later said about 400 Taliban-linked militants and several hundred other inmates were freed from the prison.

The statement, signed by Ahmadi, said the rebels had planned the attack two months ago.

"Today we succeeded," it said, adding the raid was part of a militant operation -- Ibrat, which means Lesson -- which the rebels declared at the beginning of this year.

An AFP reporter based in the southern city said large numbers of security forces including those of the US-trained Afghan national army had been deployed to search vehicles.

Authorities had so far recovered the bodies of at least 15 security guards, Ahmad Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar Provincial Council and brother of President Hamid Karzai told AFP(it is nice to see that the puppet Karzia is so successful in removing nepotism).

"We've discovered the bodies of 15 security guards who were killed in the attack. The casualties might be more," Karzai added.

"Several hundred prisoners including Taliban have escaped," he said, without giving a precise figure.

The Taliban have been battling Hamid Karzai's government since they were toppled from power in a US-led operation for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in 2001.

The raid is a blow to the president, coming one day after world donors pledged 20 billion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan at a conference in Paris but also called on him to strengthen the rule of law.

Despite the presence of about 70,000 international troops mainly operating under NATO, the insurgency aimed at toppling the US-backed government in Kabul has gained pace in the past two years.

Most of the Taliban attacks include suicide and roadside bomb blasts as well as small-scale gunfights targeting security forces. But the Islamic rebels have launched some of their most sophisticated raids in recent months.

In January 2008 several Taliban militants wearing suicide vests raided a five-star hotel in the capital, Kabul, and killed eight people including three foreigners.

And on April 27, Taliban gunmen opened fire on a military parade attended by the president, missing him but killing three other people including an MP.

A Western military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the prison attack was a major success for the rebels.

"Here behind this spectacular attack they have achieved success," the Western official told AFP.

"It was very different to the Serena attack and the military parade attack, which were very spectacular propaganda operations."
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