The Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda in Iraq’s political front, claimed credit for a complex assault on the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit that freed more than 100 prisoners, including dozens of terrorists.
In a statement that was released yesterday on jihadist Internet forums and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the Islamic State of Iraq said it executed the Sept. 27 prison break. The terror group said the operation was part of its “Destroying the Walls” campaign, which was announced at the end of July by Abu Du’a, the Islamic State of Iraq’s emir. In that statement, Abu Du’a said that emphasis would be placed on efforts “to release the Muslim prisoners everywhere.”
In yesterday’s statement, al Qaeda in Iraq detailed its complex attack. The group claimed that “silenced weapons, hand grenades, and explosive belts” were smuggled into the prison, and then operations were coordinated between the “imprisoned brothers inside the jail” and the assault team outside.
The prisoners seized control of the prison “while their brothers on the outside kill the main gate’s guards by detonating a parked car bomb and cutting off all roads leading to the security compound against the support patrols,” according to the SITE translation. The car bomb is thought to have been detonated by a suicide bomber.
After taking control of the prison, the al Qaeda fighters attacked the prison archives and destroyed “the data and database of the prisoners and those who are wanted,” according to SITE. “Also, sensitive documents were taken and that which could benefit the apostates in pursuing the mujahideen was burned.”
Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed that the operation resulted in “the death and injury of nearly 80 apostates,” and the escape of “tens” of its fighters. News reports indicated that two Iraqi policemen, an Iraqi soldier, and 11 al Qaeda in Iraq fighters were killed during the fighting.
Al Qaeda in Iraq maintains the capacity to organize and execute large-scale, complex attacks such as the assault on the Tasfirat prison in Tikrit. Another such attack, in Haditha in March, killed 27 Iraqi policemen. Al Qaeda in Iraq was able to organize and train more than 100 fighters disguised as police commandos, block the roads into the town, and round up and execute the policemen. The group has also demonstrated the ability to launch coordinated attacks in multiple cities throughout the country at least one or two times a month.
Earlier this week, Iraqi and US officials said al Qaeda in Iraq has more that doubled in strength since the US withdrawal from Iraq late last year, from 1,000 to 2,500 fighters, and has reestablished training camps in the deserts in the west of the country, according to The Associated Press. Al Qaeda in Iraq has also doubled its capacity to execute attacks.
Al Qaeda in Iraq is increasing the tempo of attacks in Iraq even as it is devoting resources to fight President Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria. The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, which is thought to have received support and personnel from al Qaeda in Iraq, has claimed credit for 27 suicide attacks in Syria since December 2011, and has executed complex suicide assaults on heavily defended Syrian security installations.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.