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Kurdish criminals still on the run after prison break in Iraqi Kurdistan

Gulan Media January 25, 2012 News
Kurdish criminals still on the run after prison break in Iraqi Kurdistan
Two of the 11 prisoners who escaped the Zirkay prison in Dohuk province by digging a tunnel have been detained and are now in police custody.

Farhad Safar turned himself in on January 11 and another fugitive Mohammed Ahmed was arrested near the border with Syria.

Rudaw was the first media outlet to report the unprecedented escape by the prisoners from the prison.

Colonel Tariq Ahmed, the chief of Dohuk’s police, said the authorities do not believe the escapees have left the Kurdistan Region.

Four escapees were facing the death penalty, two for attempting to assassinate Nechirvan Ahmed, Dohuk’s former governor.

Ahmed said that no promise has been made to reduce Safar’s sentence because he turned himself in although the law allows for reduced sentencing.

“The prisoner will be dealt with through legal means,” Ahmed said.

Ismael Salim, a cousin of Safar, told Rudaw that his cousin and other prisoners had dug the tunnel over a period of seven months. Salim said Safar had confided in him the details of the escape plan after he had fled the prison.

According to Salim, a prisoner named Fereydun Latif Rashid was the mastermind behind the plan. Rashid is in prison for killing his Norwegian wife in the city of Sulaimani in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Rashid was in a Sulaimani prison when he was transferred to the prison in Dohuk after attempting a similar escape plan by digging a 13-meter long tunnel, according to Salim.

Shwan Abdullah, the head of rehabilitation detention facility in Sulaimani told Rudaw that “in 2007, a group of prisoners dug a 43-meter long tunnel but the plan was discovered before they could finish.”

The participants in the escape plan in the Dohuk prison divided their roles. Some stood guard as others cut through the tunnel with spoons, and then they would switch roles.

Safar maintained that none of the prison staff or guards cooperated with them but said the prisoners were resourceful, even finding electricity for the tunnel by using the prison’s electricity cables.

Among the prisoners involved in the escape plan was a contractor who used his knowledge to ensure the tunnel would be dug successfully. An eyewitness who has seen the site of the tunnel from close says it is impossible that the tunnel was dug with a spoon as the soil hardens after digging for a while.

Rashid made all of the prisoners involved in the escape to take an oath of silence not to betray the rest of the group.

Safar told Salim that Rashid pretended to be a strong believer and by so doing had attracted the sympathy and loyalty of other prisoners. Rashid was the first oen to escape and Safar was the third one. They escaped in a night when moonlight had lightened the area around the prison. Safar had crawled for around 50 meters even when he was out of the prison fearing he would be seen by the guards.

The 11 escapees reunited at a spot not far from the prison and then parted ways. Safar had hidden himself in a mountainous area for two days surviving on the land. He met a shepherd there who had asked Safar if he was not one of the escapees from the prison. Safar denied that. Later police had stormed the area searching for him but were unable to discover his exact location as he was on the top of the mountain. Being fed up with hunger, Safar later went into his uncle’s home in Zakho. He was handed over to the security forces the next day by his relatives.

Asos Najib, the minister of Labor and Social Affairs told Rudaw, “there was information about the escape efforts by the 11 prisoners. But there was negligence.”

Najib’s ministry is in charge of running adult rehabilitation detention centers. Najib said the prison in Dohuk was thought to be safer and more secure than prisons in Erbil and Sulaimani.

Although there are rumors that security forces have promised to reduce Farhad’s sentence.