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Afghan Officials Offer New Details About Prison Gunbattle - 2002-08-08


Afghan officials are offering new details about a deadly gunbattle that left two policeman dead Wednesday, along with 13 gunmen described as foreign al-Qaida fighters. Afghanistan's foreign minister says the al-Qaida fighters had escaped from a Kabul prison before the firefight.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah says the incident began with a pre-dawn prison break Wednesday by what he described as hardcore members of the al-Qaida terrorist movement.

Mr. Abdullah told a news conference in Kabul Thursday that the group included 12 Pakistanis and one Kyrgyz.

"I cannot be very specific about it, but they were dangerous members of al-Qaida, and they were captured after September 11th in the campaign against the al-Qaida and the remnants of the Taleban," he said.

Mr. Abdullah says the escaped prisoners apparently fled at about two in the morning by cutting through a barred window in a prison cell. Authorities discovered the break out about two-and-half hours later.

As they fled southward from the capital, the group attacked a small outlying garrison and apparently took weapons from there. Mr. Abdullah says two policemen were killed and one was wounded in that initial clash.

Later, after daybreak, the escapees fled to Bene-i-hissar on the southern outskirts of Kabul. Mr. Abdullah says the some villagers engaged the group in a gunfight, and then police and military reinforcements arrived.

The foreign minister says the escapees refused an offer to surrender, and they fought to the death. He says three of them committed suicide with hand grenades rather than give up.

Separately, Mr. Abdullah says the government expects to release about half of the hundreds of al-Qaida prisoners it holds in the coming weeks. He says the matter came up at a recent meeting of the Afghan national security council.

"It was suggested that those prisoners which have spent a long time in our prisons and are not identified as very dangerous, or very high ranking members of al-Qaida could be released," Mr. Abdullah said. "Most of them are Pakistanis."

He described the matter as a "humanitarian" gesture, and that no one will be freed who might pose a threat in the future to Afghanistan or any other country.

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