BAGHDAD - The accused mastermind of last year's Baghdad church siege overpowered a policeman while being led to questioning, sparking a jail mutiny Sunday that killed six police, including a general, and 11 inmates.The daring incident by suspected Al-Qaeda insurgents came as security was tightened in Iraq, where authorities fear reprisals after the death of Osama bin Laden in a US special forces raid in Pakistan on May 2, with 24 policemen already having been killed in a car bomb south of Baghdad on Thursday.
Among the policemen killed in Sunday's incident was Brigadier General Moayed al-Saleh, the head of counter-terrorism for Baghdad's central Karrada district; a lieutenant colonel and two first lieutenants, the capital's security spokesman Major General Qassim Atta said at a news conference. "This incident was planned well in advance," Atta told reporters, putting the death toll at six police and 11 inmates. "The criminals were high-level members of the Islamic State of Iraq (Al-Qaeda's front group). The prime minister has ordered a committee to investigate the incident."
One of the inmates killed was Huthaifa al-Batawi, who stands accused of planning the October 31 siege on a Baghdad church in which 46 hostages and seven security force members died, and who triggered the prison uprising. According to Atta, Batawi overpowered the police lieutenant who was leading him to an interrogation room at around 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Saturday, taking his weapon and shooting him dead. Batawi, who was the Baghdad chief of Al-Qaeda's front group in Baghdad when he was arrested on November 27, then freed several other prisoners, all of whom were arrested with him in connection with the church massacre.
The group killed Saleh and several other officers before a group of four attempted to flee the prison, at which point Iraqi police reinforcements arrived and killed the would-be escapees. The remainder holed up inside the prison and the mutiny did not end until that group was killed at around 4:30 am (0130 GMT) on Sunday. "Their cases had been transferred to the courts on April 24 but yesterday, the major crimes unit received a tip about a new case against them," Atta said.
"So, Brigadier General Moayed called for Huthaifa to be interrogated. When the police went to get him, he overpowered him." A senior Iraqi counter-terrorism official largely verified Atta's account, but said that five detainees attempted to escape in a police vehicle before being gunned down. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also put the death toll at six police and 10 inmates killed. He added that two police were seriously wounded.