Middle East

Militants 'kill 60' in ambush on Iraq prison convoy

A charred bus at the spot where the ambush took place in Taji, Iraq, 24 July Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A charred bus at the spot where the ambush took place in Taji

Suicide attackers have mounted a bomb and gun attack on a prison convoy in Iraq, killing 51 prisoners and nine police officers, security sources say.

Roadside bombs exploded as the convoy was taking the prisoners from the town of Taji to the capital Baghdad 24km (15 miles) away, justice ministry and medical sources told Reuters.

Gunmen opened fire and a battle ensued with security forces, AFP reports.

It is thought the prisoners were being evacuated at the time.

The prisoners, who were suspected militants, were put in a convoy after mortar rounds hit military bases in Taji at dawn on Thursday, Iraqi officials told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As the convoy travelled through a remote area, roadside bombs went off and the militants opened fire.

There were no immediate figures for casualties among the attackers and it is unclear who was behind the attack.

It is almost a year to the day since gunmen stormed prisons in Taji and Abu Ghraib, also in the Baghdad area, freeing hundreds of inmates. Other prisons have been attacked this year.

In another development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Iraq's feuding political leaders to unite in the face of the crisis sparked by the advance of Sunni Islamist rebels in the north. He was speaking after arriving in Baghdad.

'Summary executions'

Security forces were accused this month of summarily executing prisoners, possibly in retaliation for mass public executions carried out by the Sunni Islamist militants, who seized cities in the north-west and threatened to sweep south to Baghdad.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on 11 July that security forces and militias loyal to the government, which is dominated by Shia Muslims, had executed at least 255 prisoners since 9 June.

In some cases, prisoners may have been executed as security forces retreated, to prevent them from rejoining the rebels.

The prisoners were all Sunni Muslims, while the majority of security forces and militia were Shia, HRW said in its report.

A more recent HRW report accused the Sunni militants led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) group of killing, kidnapping and threatening religious and ethnic minorities in the Mosul area of northern Iraq.

A suicide bomber killed at least 21 people in Baghdad on Tuesday, attacking a police checkpoint at the entrance to the Kadhimiya district as people travelled to a Shia Muslim shrine in the area.

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