, BAGHDAD, July 22 – Militants attacked two Iraqi prisons, including notorious Abu Ghraib, with mortars, bombs and gunfire, freeing at least 500 inmates in assaults that cost more than 40 lives, officials said Monday.
The coordinated attacks on Taji prison, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, were launched on Sunday night and triggered fighting that raged for around 10 hours, officials said.
Abu Ghraib prison, already infamous as a centre for the torture of opponents of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, gained further notoriety in 2004 when graphic pictures emerged showing prisoners being humiliated and abused by their US guards.
A frenzy of comments posted on social media, including some Twitter accounts apparently operated by jihadists, claimed that thousands of prisoners had escaped.
The two prisons had held around 10,000 inmates between them, an interior ministry official said.
“About 500 prisoners escaped from Abu Ghraib prison,” Hakem al Zamili, a member of the parliamentary security and defence committee, told AFP.
He said the escaped prisoners were “terrorists” but that, to his knowledge, no inmates managed to break out from Taji.
However, MP Shwan Taha, also a security and defence committee member, said in an online statement that between 500 and 1,000 inmates escaped from the two prisons.
Officials said at least 20 members of the security forces were killed and 40 wounded in the attacks. And the justice ministry’s spokesman said 21 inmates were killed and 25 wounded in rioting at the prisons.
It was not immediately clear how many of the militants who attacked the prison were killed, wounded or captured.
The attacks were launched at around 9:30 pm (1830 GMT) on Sunday when the militants fired mortar rounds at the prisons.