BAGHDAD — The accused coordinator of a fatal Baghdad church siege last year was shot and killed yesterday after wresting a gun from a prison guard and launching an hourslong revolt that left 17 people dead, including a top Iraqi counterterrorism general.
None of the prisoners — all suspected members of Al Qaeda in Iraq — managed to break out of the heavily fortified Interior Ministry headquarters in eastern Baghdad. Ringleader Abu Huthaifa al-Battawi, who allegedly led the October attack on the Our Lady of Salvation cathedral that left 68 dead, was slain as he tried to flee in a car.
The midnight melee at what is supposed to be one of country’s most secure jails heightens doubt about whether Iraqi forces are ready to protect the nation as US troops prepare to leave by December.
“Where are the authorities? There is no government,’’ shouted Dhia Raheema al-Taiee, nephew of the slain counterterror chief, Brigadier General Muaeid Mohammed Saleh.
“He was in a secure compound, and he is a high rank, and yet he was killed so easily at the hands of prisoners who were able to obtain weapons,’’ Taiee said at his uncle’s funeral yesterday afternoon. Nearby, police officers fired their handguns and rifles into the air in a show of grief and anger.
Six police officers and 11 detainees were killed in the attempted jailbreak, said Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad’s top military spokesman.
Moussawi and two Interior Ministry officials described a dramatic blitz by Battawi as he and up to 24 other prisoners were being taken from their cells to interrogation rooms.
Usually, guards unshackle prisoners as they are being interrogated, but Moussawi said Al Qaeda suspects should have been restrained since they are top terror threats.
Battawi’s hands had just been unbound when he wrested a gun from a guard, killed him, and freed his fellow prisoners.