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Iraqi al Qaeda mastermind leads bloody prison revolt

Top counter-terrorism commander among six police officers and 11 inmates killed

Baghdad prison 2011 5 8Enlarge
Hightened security is seen on the streets of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on May 8, 2011, after the accused mastermind of last year's Baghdad church siege overpowered a policeman while being led to questioning, sparking a jail mutiny that killed six police, including a general, and 11 inmates. (SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)

The accused mastermind of a bloody siege on a Baghdad church last October led a mutiny on Sunday in one of Iraq’s main counter-terrorism jails, leaving up to 11 inmates and six police officers dead.

Al Qaeda leader Abu Huthaifa al-Battawi reportedly grabbed an officer's gun while being led to an interrogation and shot several policemen dead, including Muaeid Mohammed Saleh, a high-ranking counter-terrorism official.

He then led an hours-long revolt inside the prison but was killed trying to escape. The jail holds some of the country’s most violent terrorism suspects.

The New York Times reported that inmates seized a cache of grenades and weapons and killed six security officers. They overran part of the jail until they were beaten back by an Iraqi police assault team. The Times reported that 10 inmates were killed.

None of the prisoners — all suspected members of al Qaeda in Iraq — managed to break out of the heavily fortified Interior Ministry headquarters in eastern Baghdad.

Ringleader al-Battawi allegedly led the October attack on the Our Lady of Salvation cathedral that left 68 dead and stunned the nation. He was shot and killed as he tried to flee in a car, the Associated Press reported.

The mutiny at what is supposed to be one of country's most secure jails has sparked questions about whether Iraqi forces are ready to protect the nation as U.S. troops prepare to leave by December.

"Where are the authorities? There is no government," shouted Dhia Raheema al-Taiee, nephew of the slain counterterror chief Saleh, according to AP. "He was in a secure compound, and he is a high rank, and yet he was killed so easily at the hands of prisoners who were able to obtain weapons."

The siege began as al-Battawi and up to 24 other prisoners were being taken from their cells to interrogation rooms. Al-Battawi's hands had just been unbound when he wrested a gun from a guard, killed him and freed his fellow prisoners. Another inmate then charged into a different room, killing a second guard and taking his weapon.

Other prisoners joined the fight, seizing an assault rifle and three other guns.

Inmates also obtained grenades, said Iraqi lawmaker Hakim al-Zamili, who sits on parliament's security and defense committee.

The prisoners then entered Saleh's office and shot him, along with another officer who was in the room. Saleh oversaw counterterrorism missions and battled organized crime in eastern Baghdad.

"I was in the next room, and I heard shots fired and screams in the corridor. I opened the door and saw about four al-Qaida detainees moving around and I closed the door immediately," said Saleh's bodyguard, Jawad Kadhum, according to AP.

"Then I heard one of them saying, 'This is the director's room,' and I heard a flurry of gunshots," he said.

Al-Battawi and four inmates jumped into a car on the compound and fled toward an exit gate but were shot and killed by a guard before they could escape.