Iraq's al-Qaida affiliate has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s jailbreak effort at two top security prisons that put hundreds of additional militants back on the street and strengthened the organization’s forces in Iraq and Syria, the Washington Post reported
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said that hundreds of prisoners were freed late Sunday in a pair of coordinated assaults. Fighters used mortars and suicide bombs to storm two Baghdad-area prisons — Abu Ghraib and Taji — which housed Iraq’s most senior al-Qaida prisoners.
At least 26 members of the Iraqi security forces and more than a dozen prisoners were killed in clashes. Iraqi officials said all of the escapes came from Abu Ghraib, and that attackers at both prisons were aided by "collusion" from guards inside.
U.S. officials in Washington said that between 500 and 600 jihadists were set free.
The attack "coincided with a relentless series of bombings blamed on al-Qaeda," the Washington Post reported. The attacks brought back "levels of violence not seen since U.S. troops surged into Iraq in 2007 in a bid to reverse the bloodshed and assert Iraqi government control."
Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow with the Middle East Forum research organization, said the jailbreak put the gains from the surge in jeopardy.
"This is a significant milestone in the resurgence of al-Qaida in Iraq," said Tamimi, who monitors jihadist activity in Iraq and Syria. "A good deal of the progress achieved from 2006 onwards has essentially been undone."
The jailbreak will also help accelerate al-Qaida’s ascendance in Syria, where it has been rapidly expanding at the expense of more moderate rebel groups, said Charles Lister of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center.
"There’s no underestimating the boost to morale," said Lister. "The fact that the Islamic State has managed to secure territory of its own in northern Syria adds to a global trend of increasing confidence and strength of al-Qaeda in Iraq and in Syria."
Jihadist web sites claim the Iraq escapees include a number of foreign fighters caught by the U.S. military in 2006 and 2007. If they are not recaptured, they will add to the pool of experienced operatives sustaining al-Qaida’s influence in Iraq and Syria, Lister said.
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