Suspected Terrorists Escape After Prison Riot in Iraq

IRAQ, KHALIS : Iraqi Shiite fighters walk at Camp Ashraf (a former base of Iran's opposition People's Mujaheddin Party) during a ceremony to mark the liberation of Iraq's Diyala province from the Islamic State group's control, in Khalis, in the Diyala province, on February 2, 2015. Iraqi forces have "liberated" …

As Time notes, prison riots in Iraq are not uncommon occurrences, often beginning with attacks on the prison compounds by militant forces seeking to rescue their comrades.

This weekend’s deadly riot at the Khalis prison, in northeastern Diyala province, reportedly began with a fight between inmates. Guards were overpowered when they tried to restore order, weapons were seized, and when the dust settled, as many as 51 inmates and 12 police had been killed.

The Iraqi government’s official casualty figures are much lower; Time got its tally of 63 fatalities from local officials speaking anonymously. A number of individuals “wanted on terrorism charges” are said to be among the escapees. Security forces are trying to hunt them down.

The government’s official account of the riot and escape beginning with a prison yard fight are also disputed… by ISIS, which “claimed a completely different account of the incident, describing it as a coordinated operation involving the use of multiple explosives outside the prison,” according to Time. “The statement claimed that 30 Islamic State members were among those who escaped.”

CNN says the ISIS account of the event has been repeated on several prominent Twitter accounts linked to the Islamic State. Not only do these accounts speak of improvised explosives used to destroy military and security vehicles outside the prison, but they also claim “ISIS members imprisoned on the inside took control of a weapons storage room and started the gunfight.”

CNN counts 40 prison escapees, nine of them in custody for terrorism charges. It’s not clear if the terrorist escapees are thought to be ISIS operatives.