JALALABAD, Afghanistan Afghan security forces laid siege to a prison seized by Islamic State fighters in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Monday, with at least 24 people killed after the militants’ overnight assault led to a mass jailbreak.
After detonating a car bomb at the entrance on Sunday evening, IS gunmen overran the prison where many IS militants captured during a campaign in the past month were being held, along with Taliban fighters and common criminals.
Provincial officials said police had recaptured around 1,000 prisoners who had escaped in the chaos, but they did now say how many were still on the loose.
Around 90 inmates remained inside the prison, fearing they would be shot by security forces if they broke cover.
Mohammad Idres, one of the prisoners trapped inside and contacted by cellphone, said he could see could around four bodies on the ground outside.
“We are very hungry, it’s very hot and we don’t have water,” he told Reuters.
“Sometimes it is quiet and then firing starts,” he said. “The security forces cannot seem to advance because the attackers hold strategic points, including the watchtowers.”
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, which came a day after the Afghan intelligence agency said special forces had killed a senior IS commander near Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar.
Officials said Afghan Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen Yasin Zia arrived on Monday to oversee the operation, involving special forces, to clear the IS fighters holed up inside the prison.
About 0 militants were involved in the attack, according to Sohrab Qaderi, a member of the provincial council.
Three militants were killed during the initial attack and gunbattle overnight, while at least 21 civilians and members of security forces died in the fighting, and 43 were wounded, Attaullah Khugyani, a spokesman for the governor said.
As the siege dragged through the day, the normally bustling city was placed under a curfew.
“Jalalabad is completely empty,” Qaderi said.
Some 130 kilometres (80 miles) east of Kabul, Jalalabad lies on the highway leading to the Khyber Pass and the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
A United Nations report last month estimated there are around 2,200 IS members in Afghanistan, and that while the group has lost territory and its leadership has been depleted, it remains capable of carrying out high-profile attacks.
(Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Rupam Jain and Charlotte Greenfield, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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