Taliban reveal details of daring Kandahar prison escape

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For the second time in just three years, inmates have managed to escape one of Afghanistan's biggest prisons. At least 470 prisoners, including Taliban commanders and fighters, fled overnight through a tunnel from Sarposa jail outside Kandahar.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told BBC Pashto that the tunnel was more than 360m (1,180ft) long and took five months to complete.

He said the tunnel led from a house south-west of the prison, which "our friends" had rented, to the political wing, where Taliban were held. It bypassed security checkpoints and the main Kandahar-Kabul road.

"We had proper digging equipment. There was so much earth from the tunnel that we carried it away gradually and sold it in the market."

Troops outside the house where the tunnel from Sarposa prison leads (25 April 2011) The tunnel led to a mud-walled compound with a brown gate and shops on either side

"We had the support of skilled professionals - people who were trained engineers, who advised us on the digging," he added. "We managed to hit the spot where the prisoners were kept."

Police showed journalists the hole in the cement floor of the prison cell. The opening was about 1m (3ft) in diameter. The tunnel dropped straight down for about 1.5m (5ft) and appeared to go in the direction of a mud-walled compound with a brown gate and shops on either side.

There are guard towers at each corner of the prison compound, which is lit at night and protected by a ring of concrete barriers topped with razor wire. The entrance can only be reached by passing through several checkpoints.

The Taliban spokesman said three militants inside the prison had known about the plan, and that they had ushered prisoners to the tunnel.

Afghan prison escapes

  • June 2008: More than 900 prisoners escape from Sarposa prison in Kandahar after a suicide bomber blasted open the gates
  • July 2010: 19 prisoners escape after a blast at a prison in Farah province
  • November 2009: 12 prisoners escape after tunnelling out of a jail from their cells in Farah

Mohammad Abdullah, one of the inmates at Sarposa who Taliban spokesmen said had helped organise the escape, said "friends" had managed to obtain copies of the keys to the cells beforehand, suggesting collusion by the guards.

"When the time came at night, we managed to open the doors for friends who were in other rooms," he told the Associated Press.

Zabiullah Mujahid added: "In order to make sure it went smoothly, they only woke people up a few at a time, room by room. This was to keep the escape secret and to make sure the guards didn't know what was going on.

"People escaped in small numbers, room by room - this avoided overcrowding and noise. It was all very professional."

View down the tunnel at Sarposa prison (25 April 2011) The tunnel dropped straight down for about 1.5m (5ft) from the cell floor

He said there had been no guards inside the cell where the tunnel emerged.

"At the other end, in the house where the tunnel started, we positioned suicide bombers so that if something happened, if fighting broke out, they could respond," he added.

He said 541 prisoners were able to escape during the operation, which began at about 2300 local time on Sunday and ended at 0330 on Monday morning.

Officials declined to provide details on any of the escaped inmates, but another Taliban spokesman said about 106 of the inmates were commanders - four of them former provincial chiefs.

The escapees were taken in vehicles to a "safe places" and then the Taliban alerted the media about what had just happened, Zabiullah Mujahid added. The prison authorities knew nothing about the escape until then, he claimed.

Officials at Sarposa prison say they discovered the breach at 0400.

A Nato armoured vehicle at the entrance to Sarposa prison (25 April 2011) In June 2008, the Taliban orchestrated the escape of more than 900 prisoners at Sarposa

The governor of Kandahar province, Tooryalai Wesa, said the breakout was "absolutely the fault of the ignorance of the security forces".

"This was not the work of a day, a week or a month of activities, this was actually months of work they spent to dig and free their men."

The police have mounted a massive search operation for the inmates. Officers had already rearrested 26 and shot two who tried to flee, Mr Wesa added.

But Zabiullah Mujahid denied that some of them had been found.

"These claims that they have recaptured people are untrue. They are just saying that to justify their negligence," he said.

In June 2008, the Taliban orchestrated the escape of more than 900 prisoners at Sarposa, including hundreds of militants, in an attack that killed 15 guards. A suicide bomber was used to blast open the gates.

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