Massive hunt begins to capture hundreds of escaped Afghan prisoners

A massive hunt began on Saturday to capture hundreds of prisoners including Taliban after they managed to escape from a prison in southern Afghanistan following an attack by dozens of insurgents, officials said.

The commando-style attack, carried out by suicide bombers and other militants using small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades, broke through the entrance of Kandahar province's main jail on late Friday night, dpa reported.

"We detonated a truck loaded with 1,800 kilogrammes of explosives and broke the gate and killed all the guards," Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa by phone from a secret place.

Ahmadi said that their 80 fighters had taken control of the prison and some other strategic locations in Kandahar city until they freed all the prisoners, "including 400 jailed Taliban."

Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai, the Deputy Minister of Justice in Kabul, confirmed that more than 1,000 prisoners were in the Kandahar city jail at the time of attack and "most of them have escaped."

He said that a large number of Afghan and foreign forces have launched a search operation to track down the fleeing prisoners.

Officials also said that a state of emergency was declared in Kandahar province with police and troops on the streets and all residents ordered to stay home.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, younger brother of President Hamid Karzai and the head of the provincial council of Kandahar, said that nine police, seven inmates and a civilian were killed during the firefight and explosions on Friday night.

Another police official who declined to be named said that more than a dozen policemen guarding the prison lost their lives in the attack.

Small arms fire and explosions could be heard for hours in Kandahar city, citizens said.

The prison, which housed around 1,200 inmates including several hundred Taliban members, is located in the western outskirts of Kandahar city, once the main stronghold of Taliban fugitive leader Mullah Omar.

Hundreds of prisoners, mainly Taliban members, went on hunger strike in May, demanding fair trials and complaining of being tortured by prison authorities.

At least 47 jailed Taliban members stitched their lips shut during the several-day-long strike that ended when parliamentarians from Kabul intervened.

Thousands of Taliban militants, who lost power in late 2001 in the US-led military invasion, and their al-Qaeda associates have been arrested by Afghan and international forces during the past six years.

Several inmates and security personnel were wounded when a group of Taliban prisoners revolted in Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul in 2006. The group took control of a block in the prison before security forces recaptured them in an armed encounter.

In summer 2005, four foreign members of the al-Qaeda terrorist network escaped from a high-security US-controlled prison in Bagram airfield, the main US military base in the northern part of the capital Kabul.

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