Rioting inmates seize control of Kabul prison wing

Terror convicts and hundreds of other inmates clashed with guards and took control of parts of a high-security prison in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, officials said today.

Police and soldiers surrounded the Policharki Prison as government officials negotiated through loudspeakers with the inmates, who included al Qaida and Taliban militants.

Inmates agreed to allow 70 female prisoners to move from a wing of the prison they had captured to a wing still under official control, said Mohammed Qasim Hashimzai, deputy justice minister.

He refused to give any details about the prisoners’ demands.

Earlier, an Associated Press reporter heard two bursts of gunfire about two hours apart from inside the prison.

A few minutes after the first gunfire, an ambulance carrying an unidentified patient drove out of the prison.

The trouble began last night when prisoners forced guards out of a prison block housing about 1,300 inmates, said Abdul Salaam Bakshi, chief of prisons in Afghanistan.

He accused al-Qaida and Taliban inmates of inciting other prisoners.

The Afghan army deployed more than 100 soldiers, some with helmets and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, to surround the prison and with NATO peacekeepers, parked 10 tanks and armoured personnel carriers outside the gates.

“All the problem is inside the prison,” Bakshi said. “We want to peacefully solve this problem.”

Hashimzai said at least four inmates were injured in the riot but prisoners refused an offer for them to be treated.

No guards were hurt in the clash.

Bakshi said the inmates had attacked guards and tried to force their way out of their prison block but were stoppd.

He said the inmates had small knives and clubs fashioned from wrecked furniture. They also set fire to bedding.

The prison holds 2,000 inmates, including some 350 al Qaida and Taliban militants.

Hashimazai said about 100 inmates had taken control of a women’s wing of the prison.

He said the riot erupted when prisoners refused to put on new uniforms, delivered in response to a breakout last month by seven Taliban inmates disguised as visitors.

A justice ministry delegation visited the prison on the outskirts of Kabul this morning to negotiate with the prisoners.

“They have demands, we are going to listen to what they want,” Hashimzai said.

“If we cannot solve it through negotiations, we have our own options,” he added, but refused to say if that meant using force.

Policharki has suffered breakouts and riots before.

In December 2004, four inmates and four guards died during a 10-hour stand-off that started when some al-Qaida militants used razors to wrest some guns from guards and then tried to break out.

Afghan troops stormed the prison and fired guns and rocket-propelled grenades to retake control.

Several wings of Policharki are being refurbished to improve security and living conditions.

Some 110 Afghan terror suspects are expected to be transferred there later this year from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Afghan officials say.

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