Taliban insurgents have stormed a prison in central Afghanistan, allowing hundreds of inmates to escape.
Afghan officials say the well-organized pre-dawn assault began with a suicide car bombing at the entrance that allowed other insurgents to get into the prison in the province of Ghazni.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Najib Danish, told VOA the facility was housing around 436 men and women prisoners.
He said 355 of them escaped, including a female detainee, and that a search was underway to recapture them. The spokesman added that the remaining prisoners have been moved to a more secure location.
Afghan authorities have described almost half of those who fled as dangerous criminals, saying they were charged with "national security crimes."
Several guards were also killed in the shootout with the insurgents.
The Interior Ministry spokesman says there were indications the Taliban had been preparing to assault the prison, prompting authorities to move important Taliban prisoners to Kabul a day earlier.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the attack. He said a team of 10 suicide bombers was sent to free the prisoners and three of them died, while the rest returned safely.
According to the Taliban, a large number of senior commanders and fighters were among those who escaped.
The Taliban in the past staged major jailbreaks in Afghanistan. They included two against the country's largest prison in southern Kandahar province in 2008 and 2011, allowing some 1,700 inmates to flee.
Mujahid said that a 10-member team of suicide bombers was sent to free the prisoners and three of them died in the pre-dawn action while the rest returned safely. Up to 400 inmates, he claimed, were freed.
The Taliban has in the past staged major jailbreaks in Afghanistan. In April 2011 the group carried out an audacious attack in southern Kandahar province to free around 500 fighters from Sarposa, the country’s largest prison. The Taliban had for months dug nearly a kilometer long and three-foot wide tunnel to a prison cell in Sarposa, equipping it with electricity and air pipes from a nearby house.
In an earlier attack on the same prison, a group of Taliban fighters armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades had managed to free as many as 1200 inmates in June 2008.