BAGHDAD — Twenty-five suspects held on terrorism charges, some facing the death penalty, escaped early today from a prison north of Baghdad, killing two guards and raising the question of whether they had received inside help, security officials said. The prison is where Saddam Hussein was hanged in 2006.
In another sign of the escalating violence crippling the country, 16 Iranians working on a gas pipeline and three Iraqis were killed by gunmen in SUVs who surrounded their bus today and opened fire in Khanaqin in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, according to the police and medical sources.
Among the Iranians killed were engineers and construction workers; the bus driver and an escort were two of the Iraqis killed. Four Iranian workers survived and were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The pipeline runs between Iraq and Iran.
The prison escape came a few weeks short of the seventh anniversary of Hussein’s execution. The prison, a former headquarters of his Istikhbarat military intelligence agency, has since been renamed Al Adala, meaning justice.
It was at least the fourth publicly reported mass prison break in Iraq since the fall of 2012. It also underscored the decline of the country’s security and the increase in deadly sectarian violence since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011 following the eight-year-long war that deposed Hussein.
One of Iraq’s most spectacular prison breaks took place in July, when hundreds of inmates were liberated in coordinated attacks by operatives from al-Qaeda on prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib, the prison made infamous by the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal during the war.
Security forces trying to recapture the escapees in the prison break had hunted down 11 of them later in the day.
The prisoners broke out around 3:30 a.m., according to a police official who said some gates had been broken open while others appeared to have been unlocked. The official spoke in return for anonymity, because he was not authorized to discuss the episode with reporters.
Security forces arrested all the guards who had been on duty at the time to determine whether they had helped prisoners escape. Several are still under investigation, the police official said.