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Middle East
Iraqi al-Qaeda leader killed in jail gunfight
Abu Huzaifa Al Batawi and up to 15 others shot dead after prisoners try to overpower their guards in Baghdad prison.
Last Modified: 08 May 2011 10:31
Al Batawi was accused of being behind one of several attacks on churches in Iraq last year [Reuters]

The most senior member of al-Qaeda in Iraq has been shot dead during clashes between prison guards and prisoners inside a jail in Baghdad, officials say.

Abu Huzaifa Al Batawi, the leader of the Islamic state of Iraq - the most powerful al-Qaeda faction in the country - was killed along with up to 15 others after detainees tried to overpower their guards on Sunday, according to a security official.

"This incident was planned well in advance," said Baghdad's security spokesman, Major General Qassim Atta.

"The criminals were high-level members of the Islamic State of Iraq [al-Qaeda's front group]. The prime minister has ordered a committee to investigate the incident."

Among the policemen killed was Moayed al-Saleh, the head of counter-terrorism for Baghdad's central Karrada district; a lieutenant colonel and two first lieutenants, Atta said.

The incident occurred at the ministry of interior's Baghdad compound, designed to be one of the most secure facilities in the country, leaving family members of the counter-terrorism chief asking how it could have happened.

"Where are the authorities? There is no government,'' shouted Dhia Raheema al-Taiee, al-Saleh's nephew.

"He was in a secure compound, and he is a high rank, and yet he was killed so easily at the hands of prisoners who were able to obtain weapons,'' al-Taiee said at his uncle's funeral on Sunday.

Officials say Al Batawi grabbed the gun of a prison guard as he was being moved through the prison compound. He managed to kill several police officers before he was shot dead.

Other inmates joined the fight, and nine of them were reported killed. 

Security concerns

Several other detainees were injured and brought to Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital under tight security. They were taken away by security officials to an unidentified location after being treated, officials said.

"Normally the interior minister would lead such an investigation [into the incident] but Iraq's coalition government doesn't have one," Jane Arraf, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Baghdad said.

"A year after the elections they haven't been able to agree on that or a defence minister.

"Officials here have been worried that even as al-Qaeda leaders have been killed or arrested the organisation has been able to regenerate.

"US military forces have done a lot of the intelligence and surveillance here. But they're leaving at the end of the year, raising fears that Iraq could be even more vulnerable."

In January, 12 inmates, many believed to have links to al-Qaeda in Iraq, were awaiting trial in a temporary detention centre in the southern city of Basra when they obtained uniforms and walked out in disguise. At least two were later picked up by security officials in northern Iraq.

Al Batawi was accused of being behind an attack on a Baghdad church that left 68 people dead last October.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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