WASHINGTON - US counter-terrorism analysts believe that the recent jailbreaks in Pakistan, Iraq and Libya that freed hundreds of suspected militants were part of an al Qaeda plot, according to American officials.
Citing the officials, ABC News said while firm connections between the jailbreaks have not been conclusively established, similarities in the tactics al Qaeda-affiliated assault teams used to free known militants” in the three countries, which all occurred within a week of each other this summer, and a relevant message on jailbreaks from Osama bin Laden’s successor, lead many to suspect coordination. “Just this week, a small group of the escaped showed themselves to be back to their old ways, captured on video carrying out an attack against security forces in Iraq,” the leading American television network said.
At a minimum, it said, the bloody external assaults that freed the jihadis, along with a subsequent uptick in violence in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, has caused alarm.
“We are very concerned about it,” one U.S. official tracking the jailbreaks, was quoted as saying. Officials said they feared the legion of terrorists sprung from behind bars could target US and other western interests overseas - or even in the homeland.
The Westgate mall terror attack in Nairobi, Kenya, last month, which left more than 60 dead including Western shoppers, the report said added to the jitters already felt over suddenly having to worry about hundreds of liberated inmates expert in assassination, making improvised explosive devices and leading terror cells. The prison attacks also have become a rallying cry in public statements by Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Tunisia and Yemen, and prompted a global INTERPOL alert last August.
Prisons in Taji and at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad were assaulted July 21 by heavily armed terrorists, who freed comrades from al Qaeda-Iraq (AQI), according to US and Iraqi officials. Since then, a wave of suicide and vehicle bombings has slain thousands in Iraq - which officials partly blame on the freed inmates - while other former convicts have moved through al Qaeda staging areas in the western desert to fight in Syria.
“You can’t ascribe all of the violence to the jailbreaks, but it has replenished AQI’s stocks,” one US official told ABC News. “They have given AQI an advantage with their numbers and experience.”
There were more than 600 [escapees], most are AQI, ISIS and other terrorists,” Hakim Al-Zamili, a member of the Iraqi parliament who closely follows security issues, said in Baghdad. “Those AQI fighters have the ability to influence and to work in groups on the ground. The jailbreak operations have given them the motive and support to move on, and also the motive to free other [terrorist] inmates.”
Al Qaeda on Friday posted video online of armed former inmates who escaped from Abu Ghraib capturing and executing Iraqi military officers, the report said.
A week after the Iraq breakouts, more than 1,000 inmates escaped a prison in Benghazi, Libya, though many who overwhelmed the jail were said to be relatives of petty criminals held there, one of the U.S. officials cautioned. Other prisoners escaped in much smaller numbers in separate incidents elsewhere in Libya around the same period. On July 30, a prison in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, was attacked by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan using almost identical tactics, techniques and procedures as in al Qaeda’s Iraq assaults.
The attackers liberated a dozen or more known terrorists picked up in the tribal areas. The sophisticated D.I. Khan operation was claimed to have been carried out by former Pakistani air force officer-turned-extremist Adnan Rasheed, who was busted out of a prison in Bannu last spring, itg was pointed out.
He subsequently helped form a special terror unit in the tribal areas, Ansar al-Aseer, to stage more attacks to free terrorists in Pakistan, he declared in a video online.
“The first purpose of this group is to make your release possible by all means,” Rasheed said, addressing those locked up, as he squatted with two European mujahideen cradling Kalashnikov rifles in their laps.
Violence has continued in Pakistan, but links to the hardcore extremists freed in the recent jailbreaks has not been firmly established, the report said.
The incidents in the three countries coincided with a new tape on July 31 by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took the reins of the terror group after Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs in May 2011. Some may have laughed at his promise to free terrorists in the heavily garrisoned U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but he also repeated past vows that al Qaeda “will not spare any effort until we free them and all our captives.”
Some U.S. officials told ABC News that the attacks particularly in Pakistan and Iraq suggested a coordinated operation by core al Qaeda, led by Zawahiri. Other officials said most of those who escaped the prisons were more a threat to the region or
American interests overseas than the U.S. homeland, and evidence of any coordinated strategy was only circumstantial, the report pointed out. But the incidents in Iraq and Pakistan involved assaults from the outside that bore distinct similarities. agreed.
At the D.I. Khan prison, the attackers used explosives to enter the old facility at a weak point and then gunmen charged inside, where they used loudspeakers to call out specific inmates who were well known terrorists held there. The two prisons in Iraq were attacked in similar fashion.
You have to wonder why they did this and what they’re up to,” another U.S. security source closely monitoring the events was quoted as saying.