View Full Version : Marines free 123 from Iraqi prison

04-16-03, 02:01 AM

Marines free 123 from Iraq hellhole
By Derwin Pereira

FOR three days, American tanks have been shelling a military intelligence building in the posh Al-Khathamia area in west Baghdad.

The dozen or so tanks are not here to pound intransigent fighters but to break down concrete beams and steel, to reach bunkers deep underground at the Al-Istikhbarat Al-'Askariya facility.


The Marines found 123 prisoners, including five women, barely alive in an underground warren of cells and torture chambers.

Being trapped underground probably kept them safe from the bombing of Baghdad by the coalition.

Severely emaciated, some had survived by eating the scabs off their sores. All the men had beards down to their waists, said onlookers.

Most looked absolutely dazed when they emerged, said Mr Sadoun Mohamed, 37, who lives in the area.

'They had not seen sunlight for a long time,' he said. 'They kept blinking and covering their faces.' He said they were taken to the Saddam Hospital for treatment.

Their names were posted on the walls of the Al-Hajabehia Mosque in west Baghdad, as were names of some 40 others known to have been executed or murdered in prison.

Hundreds of anxious locals wait for word of their family, relatives and friends, some of whom were taken away more than 10 years ago.

Outside Al-Istikhbarat Al-'Askariya, Mr Sadeq Al Saeed, 24, a construction worker, has been waiting sleepless for the last 36 hours. He said he had heard the facility had five levels below ground.

He said his father, an Iraqi army captain, was killed in 1991 during the first Gulf War, and his cousins Amer and Jasem and some 50 others were picked out by the secret police for chanting anti-Saddam slogans during the funeral procession.

'That was the last I saw of them,' he said.

'In the night, people raided their houses, blindfolded them and took them away.'

He hopes against hope that the Marines will be able to find his cousins, who were brought here to be interrogated.

This hellhole is believed to be one of many for Iraq's political prisoners. Thousands may still be behind bars though the regime released many criminals from prisons before the war.

The United States soldiers at Al-Istikhbarat Al-'Askariya would not say what they were doing there. Their tanks blocked the entrance.

This place could be part of the labyrinth of underground facilities which might still shelter regime members.

Under one palace, a German-designed 1,900 sq m bunker was built at a cost of US$90 million (S$160 million) with luxurious accommodation for the Iraqi President, his family, their bodyguards and staff.

More than 24 bunkers were identified 12 years ago. There may be more now, located under schools, hospitals, even mosques, and linked together.

The security police, or Da'irat Al-Mukhabbarat Al-'Amma; Iraqi Intelligence Service; and military intelligence, also built cells and tunnels underground.

Taxi driver Hathem Ejam, 36, said Mr Saddam's older son Uday, also used them for his harem discards.

Relaying widely-believed rumours, he said: 'He would pick any young girl he liked from the street, rape her, shave her head bald and then get his guards to dump her in an underground cell.'

04-16-03, 02:11 AM


April 16, 2003

'Buried alive in a concrete grave'
By Nick Parker

BRITISH troops were racing against time last night to free prisoners believed to have been buried alive by Saddam Hussein’s fleeing henchmen.

Army engineers were called in after British officers heard scratching beneath a wrecked statue of Saddam in al-Faw. Local people said they had seen two coachloads of prisoners being sealed into a secret chamber under the site.

Hundreds of Iraqis kept a vigil yesterday as engineers with pneumatic drills and a bulldozer worked to break through a yard of concrete believed to have been poured into a stairwell leading to the dungeon.

Several British troops said they had heard a response after they stopped digging, called for quiet and knocked on the ground.

The sound of a series of scratching noises has been distinct at least twice since work started on Monday afternoon.

Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Wolsey, of 29 Commando Royal Artillery, which called in the digging teams, said: “We stopped work and knocked on the floor after ordering complete silence and I definitely heard something.

“It sounded like someone scratching at the concrete from below. A medic who was with us used his stethoscope and confirmed he heard the noise.

“Locals are adamant that they saw coachloads of prisoners, possibly Kuwaitis from the last war, being brought here before the coalition forces arrived.

“We have an obligation to help if there is even the slightest chance of someone being alive down there.”

Men from 59 Commando Engineers were working in shifts inside the statue’s 30ft-high hollow plinth. Others, backed by the bulldozer, were trying to burrow in from outside.

The steel figure of Saddam, which vanished during fighting, used to dominate a huge marble, pillared amphitheatre in al-Faw town which was dedicated to the tyrant.

British troops stepped in to help after finding local people on the site tearing at the rubble with their bare hands.

Staff Sergeant George Lamplough, 35, who was among the digger teams, said: “I’ve just worked 12 hours solid trying to get through the concrete, and it’s tough going.

“We can’t be sure we’ll find anything, but we’ve shown the locals that we believe what they’ve told us and that we’re willing to help. Noises have been heard when we’ve stopped to listen, by some of us as well as the locals. So we’ll press on as long as necessary.”

Abu Alal, 47, a shopkeeper and the town’s self-appointed mayor, said yesterday: “We are certain that people are trapped underground and are very grateful to the British for their help. “It would be a wonderful miracle if someone came out of there alive after all this time.”

The lavish amphitheatre was opened by Saddam 13 years ago and was once adorned with fountains clad in gleaming marble.

But Mr Alal said he recalled teams of foreign engineers arriving on the site and is convinced that a secret bunker complex was installed.

He pointed out masses of heavy-duty cables leading underground and said that two of the classical-style pillars were hollow air shafts. A heavy digging tool was later fitted to a bulldozer to aid the army teams last night.