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Afghan Officials Acknowledge Escape Of Over 300 Prisoners, Many Islamic State Militants

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Afghan Officials Acknowledge Escape Of Over 300 Prisoners, Many Islamic State Militants

Afghan security personnel on top of one of the buildings captured by Islamic State militants on Sunday

Afghan security forces have retaken the prison in Jalalabad after it was captured by Islamic State militants on Sunday. An Afghan government official stated on Monday that at least 39 people were killed in the attack, including the assailants, and that over 300 prisoners escaped before security forces managed to recapture the prison complex.

Another 50 people were wounded in the attack that began Sunday at approximately 6.30pm local time when a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed in a vehicle at the entrance to the prison complex.

Other militants simultaneously stormed the prison and took up positions in nearby residential buildings. The ensuing firefight between the assailants and security forces lasted around 20 hours.

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attack. Many of the escaped prisoners were members of the Islamic State militant group, which still has a significant presence in the eastern province of Nangarhar where the prison is located.

At least 10 of the dead were ISIS militants involved in the assault to free their comrades from the prison in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, said Ajmal Omar, a provincial council member. The rest of the dead were believed to be prisoners, civilians and Afghan forces.

“The aim of this attack was to rescue all Daesh members inside the prison, and unfortunately that included five or six senior Daesh people,” Omar said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, which is also known as ISIS. Among the prisoners who escaped was the group’s shadow governor for neighbouring Kunar Province, he said.

More than 300 prisoners were still at large, Attaullah Khugyani, spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, added. Of the 1,793 prisoners, more than 1,025 had tried to escape and been recaptured and 430 had remained inside.

“The rest are missing,” he said.

One inmate, who gave his name as Azizullah, said he heard the powerful explosion, followed by the militants storming into the main prison block, shouting for their fighters and telling them to flee.

As the siege dragged on throughout the day, the city was placed under a curfew.

Located some 120 kilometres east of Kabul, Jalalabad lies on the highway leading to the Khyber Pass and the Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Security forces also clashed with Islamic State fighters on Monday in another part of Nangarhar, according to Ghalib Mujahid, the governor of Behsud district, though he could not provide further details.

The attack is one of the deadliest attacks claimed by the Islamic State group since the emergence of the armed group in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province in early 2015. A United Nations report released last month estimated the membership of ISIS in Afghanistan at around 2,200.

The day before the attack, Afghan authorities reported that Afghan special forces had killed a senior Islamic State commander near Jalalabad. Although the group’s strength has been reduced by security force operations, analysts say it is still a formidable force in some areas. LINK

Of the five prisoners killed by the militants, at least three were members of the Taliban, which is a bitter enemy of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said that his group was not involved in the prison attack.

“We have a cease-fire and are not involved in any of these attacks anywhere in the country,” he said.

The Taliban had declared a three-day cease-fire starting Friday for the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The formal cease-fire expired at midnight Sunday.

While no major clashes between the Taliban and security forces were reported during the period, the government accused the Taliban of violating the ceasefire 38 times over the three-day truce.

Interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said the insurgents had killed 20 civilians and wounded 40 by “carrying out terrorist and offensive attacks as well as using landmines.” The Taliban rejected the accusations.

While hopes had been raised that the long delayed ‘Intra-Afghan’ peace talks might finally begin after the Afghan president announced last week that he intends to release more Taliban prisoners as per the original February agreement between the US and the Taliban, coinciding with a 3 day ceasefire declared for Eid celebrations, the final decision on the prisoners’ fate will apparently be made this week.

The contentious prisoner swap stipulated under the US-Taliban deal remains one of the biggest obstacles to the start of the dialogues.

Under the exchange, Kabul is meant to free around 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held captive by the insurgents.

The National Security Council said Sunday that more than 4,900 inmates have been freed, and the Taliban last week said they had already met their side of the commitment.

“To show goodwill and accelerate the peace talks, we will release 500 Taliban prisoners in response to the group’s three-day ceasefire announcement,” Ghani said in an Eid speech. However, the 500 inmates are not on the original list of 5,000 demanded by the Taliban.

Kabul authorities have already released 4,600 of those prisoners but are hesitating about the release of the final 400, deeming them too dangerous. “I do not have the right to decide on the release of those 400 Taliban prisoners who are accused of serious crimes,” Ghani said, adding that a Loya Jirga (gathering of Afghan elders) would decide their fate, possibly on 7 August. LINK

The Taliban, who have insisted on the release of those 400 militants, did not immediately comment.

Both Kabul and the Taliban have signalled they could be ready to start talks after Eid, and the Afghan government on Sunday offered to extend the ceasefire.

The insurgents have not formally responded. LINK

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