Five inmates awaiting execution and 11 others accused of belonging to al-Qaida in Iraq escaped from a makeshift prison built near a former palace of Saddam Hussein in northern Iraq, and authorities suggested Thursday that guards there may have helped them.
Authorities imposed a curfew on Tikrit, a city of about 250,000 north of Baghdad, after the escape of the prisoners Wednesday night. By dawn, police had set up checkpoints inside the city and on the roads leading out of Tikrit, best known for its proximity to Saddam's birthplace. Iraqi army patrols combed the city and carried out a manhunt in villages to the east and south of Tikrit, while the US military provided dogs and helped search from the air.
At least one of the prisoners was caught in his hometown of Ishaki, 40 miles south of Tikrit, said Col. Hatem Akram, a spokesman for the Tikrit police. Akram said he was not one of the inmates sentenced to death.
Officials said the other inmates were believed to have headed to regions east of Tirkit controlled by the Albu Ajeel tribe, a stretch of territory near Wadi al-Tharthar that has long served as a conduit for Sunni Arab insurgents. Police feared that if they managed to reach the areas, relatives there would provide them refuge.