An attack by armed men on two prisons in Baghdad on Sunday night was foiled by Iraqi security forces, the interior ministry said.
The attack on prisons in Taji, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib to the west of the capital may have allowed hundreds of prisoners to escape. At least 26 security force members were killed in fierce clashes that raged all night, officials told Reuters on Monday.
Between 500 to 1,000 prisoners escaped from the Abu Ghraib prison, with most being al-Qaeda members, Iraqi security official Hakim al-Zamily told Al Arabiya.
“The security forces in the Baghdad Operations Command, with the assistance of military aircraft, managed to foil an armed attack launched by unknown gunmen against the ... two prisons of Taji and Abu Ghraib,” the interior ministry said in a statement late on Sunday night.
“The security forces forced the attackers to flee, and these forces are still pursuing the terrorist forces and exerting full control over the two regions,” it said.
On Twitter, some accounts apparently operated by jihadists, claimed that thousands of prisoners had escaped. A number of users also posted similar claims on the Honein jihadist forum, according to AFP news agency.
Prisons in Iraq are periodically hit by escape attempts, uprisings and other unrest.
The attacks on the prisons came a year after Al-Qaeda’s Iraqi front group announced that it would target the Iraqi justice system.
“The first priority in this is releasing Muslim prisoners everywhere, and chasing and eliminating judges and investigators and their guards,” said an audio message attributed to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last July.