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35 Iraqi inmates tunnel out, most recaptured

BAGHDAD — Most of 35 Iraqi terror suspects who tunneled their way out of a detention facility on Thursday were quickly recaptured, a security official said.

Abdul-Raheem al-Shimmary, the head of the security committee on the provincial council, said 21 of the detainees were recaptured soon after the dawn escape from a prison facility in Iraq's northern Ninevah province. Iraqi officials were searching for the remaining 14.

The detainees were being held at a Ministry of Interior facility on terrorism related charges.

Al-Shimmary said they had links to al-Qaida. He said they escaped through a 50-meter (160-foot) tunnel that they dug.

Two Iraqi officials with knowledge of the investigation said the tunnel lead to a sewage pipe and then to the Tigris River.

The officials said there were indications the prisoners had inside help, and that officials were looking into how the prisoners were able to smuggle in digging tools.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Prison breaks are not uncommon in Iraq, casting doubt on whether Iraqi security forces are ready to protect the nation when U.S. troops leave.

Last month, two inmates and one guard were killed in a prison break in the central Iraqi city of Hilla. Earlier this year a dozen terror suspects disguised in police uniforms broke out of a temporary detention center in the southern port city of Basra.

Associated Press Writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.