Manhunt after 488 Taliban prisoners in 'great escape'
Published 26/04/2011 | 05:00
A huge manhunt was under way yesterday after 488 Taliban prisoners broke out of a high-security jail in southern Afghanistan, via a 1,000ft tunnel that snaked under checkpoints, razor-wire-tipped walls and a major highway before emerging in a house outside the perimeter.
Described by the Afghan government as a "disaster that should not have happened", the escape has made a mockery of the national security forces barely three months before Nato troops are due to hand over control of several parts of the country. Inside help is almost certainly to blame.
According to a Taliban spokesman, insurgents on the outside spent five months excavating the tunnel before finally breaking into one of the cells on Sunday night.
Over the next four and a half hours, they whisked the 488 prisoners held in the political wing of Sarpoza jail to freedom, shuttling them away in cars, while a team of suicide bombers stood ready to distract the prison guards.
The warders only discovered that the inmates were gone at sunrise yesterday, half an hour after the last detainee had set off down the tunnel. To add insult to injury, sources in Kandahar said that the tunnellers used refurbishments to irrigation canals, funded by the US, to conceal their digging.
"This is a blow," government spokesman Waheed Omar said. He said the government would investigate "what exactly happened" but analysts said there was every indication of an inside job -- this was backed up by a statement by one man who claimed to be one of the escapees.
"There were four or five of us who knew that our friends were digging a tunnel from the outside," explained Mohammad Abdullah.
An official said that bombs left in the tunnel were hampering the investigation.