Taliban militants tunneled at least 480 inmates out of the main prison in southern Afghanistan overnight, whisking them through a 1,000-foot-long underground passage they had dug over months, officials and insurgents said Monday.
Officials at Sarposa prison in the city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, say they only discovered the breach at about 4 am, a half hour after the Taliban said they had gotten all the prisoners out.
The militants began digging the tunnel about five months ago from a house within shooting distance of the prison guard towers. It was not immediately clear whether they lived in the house while they dug. They meticulously plotted the tunnel's course around police checkpoints and major roads, the insurgent group said in a statement.
Daring Taliban escape (Archive photo: AP)
The diggers finally broke through to the prison cells around 11 pm Sunday night, and a handful of inmates who knew of the plan unlocked cells and ushered hundreds of inmates to freedom without a shot being fired.
'This is a blow'
A man who claimed he helped organize those inside the prison told The Associated Press in a phone call that he and his accomplices obtained copies of the keys for the cells ahead of time from "friends." He did not say who those friends were, but his comments suggested possible collusion by prison guards.
The Taliban statement said it took four and a half hours for all the prisoners to clear the tunnel, with the final inmates emerging into the house at 3:30 am. They then used a number of vehicles to shuttle the escaped convicts to secure locations.
Government officials corroborated parts of the Taliban account. They confirmed the tunnel was dug from the nearby house and the prisoners had somehow gotten out of their locked cells and disappeared into the warm Kandahar night.
The city's police mounted a massive search operation for the escaped convicts. They shot dead two inmates who tried to evade capture and re-arrested another 26, said Tooryalai Wesa, the provincial governor.
"This is a blow," presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. "A prison break of this magnitude of course points to a vulnerability."
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