Riot at Afghan prison enters second day
Hundreds of police and soldiers had sealed off and surrounded a block of the Pul-e-Charkhi prison on Kabul's outskirts after the riot erupted.india Updated: Feb 27, 2006 13:11 IST
A tense standoff between security forces and rioting inmates at Afghanistan's main high security jail entered a second day on Monday with scores believed wounded and unconfirmed reports of fatalities.
Hundreds of police and soldiers had sealed off and surrounded a block of the Pul-e-Charkhi prison on Kabul's outskirts after the riot erupted late on Saturday, apparently from a wing holding Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners.
There were reports of more than 30 casualties, including fatalities, but a security official inside the prison said that the number was impossible to confirm as authorities had no access to the block, which houses about 1,350 inmates.
Police, themselves surrounded by a second cordon of soldiers, had closed the gates to the compound and were reluctant to enter as the chaos raged, the security official said, asking not to be identified.
Inmates, some armed with weapons made from steel bedposts and other furniture, on Sunday tossed flaming bedding and wooden furniture out of the windows, the official said by telephone from the inside the jail.
Some were shouting "Death to (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai", "Death to (US President George W) Bush" and "Death to America," he said.
The block consisted of a section for political prisoners, one for criminals and another for women. The rioters had broken the barriers between the sections and officials expressed concern that some of the women may have been raped.
The uprising appeared to have started in the political section, which contained about 300 suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters, and spread to the criminal wing, said Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission spokesman Nader Nadeery.
Some reports said the unrest may have been sparked by resistance to new prison uniforms, which would reportedly distinguish between political and criminal prisoners. Others said the riot was a Taliban escape bid.
The prisoners appeared to have no single aim and there were conflicting demands coming from inside the building, the prison official said.
Nadeery, whose organisation was called in to try to negotiate with the rioters, said they "are not agreeing on anything... they just want to be released."
Gangleader Timur Shah, convicted of kidnapping an Italian aid worker last year and sentenced to death for murder, was also involved in provoking the situation, he said.
The massive and rundown jail, built in the 1970s, is notorious for the detention and torture of thousands of people during the communist rule of the 1980s.
Seven low- to mid-ranking Taliban prisoners escaped from it a month ago, allegedly with help from prison wardens.
Five guards and four inmates with suspected links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban died during a stand-off there in December 2004. Three of the dead were Pakistanis and one was an Iraqi.
The Taliban have been battling Karzai's government since they were toppled from power in a US-led operation in 2001 for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
The prison also houses self-styled US vigilante Jonathan "Jack" Idema and two others who were convicted in September 2004 of running a private jail and torturing Afghans they suspected of links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They have their own, separate block.