KABUL (AFP) -Police and troops sealed off a block of Afghanistan’s main jail for a second day after inmates, some from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, went on a rampage that officials said left at least four people dead.
Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and police surrounded the block in the Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of the capital. There were requests for food and medicine from inside the building which accommodates around 1,300 prisoners, authorities said.
A police official and another involved in negotiations with the prisoners said on condition of anonymity that there were four bodies inside the complex and around 30 wounded.
The inmates had not handed the injured over for treatment and Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai said it was difficult to know the exact situation until authorities were able to enter the block.
Sporadic shouts were still coming from inside the building but the situation appeared calmer than on Sunday and “we are optimistic that today we will be able to come to agreement through negotiations,” he said.
Security forces were reluctant to enter the complex because many inmates appeared to have armed themselves with makeshift weapons including steel bedposts.
The riot erupted late Saturday when prisoners attacked wardens and set bedding and furniture ablaze.
They smashed windows and doors and ripped holes in walls separating units for women, criminals and political prisoners — including those from Al-Qaeda and the hardline Taliban government ousted in late 2001.
Officials expressed concern Sunday that some of the women may have been raped and some, including women guards, were being held hostage inside the building.
The rioters appeared to have no clear goals Sunday but by early Monday a list of demands had been presented to government officials, a police official and defence ministry source said.
They included complaints about overcrowding, prison food and the separation of prisoners from their visitors, the police official said.
The list also alleged that criminals were able to use bribes to avoid jail and that inmates had been arrested because of ethnic rivalries.
“The list has been given to the government authorities. Now they are discussing it,” he said.
Some reports said the unrest may have been sparked by resistance to new prison uniforms, which would reportedly distinguish between political and criminal prisoners. Others said the riot was a bid by Taliban prisoners to escape.
Timur Shah, a gangleader convicted of kidnapping an Italian aid worker last year and sentenced to death for murder, was also involved in provoking the situation, a rights official said Sunday.
The massive and rundown jail, built in the 1970s, is notorious for the detention and torture of thousands of people during the communist rule of the 1980s.
Seven low- to mid-ranking Taliban prisoners escaped from it a month ago, allegedly with help from prison wardens.
Five guards and four inmates with suspected links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban died during a stand-off there in December 2004.
Part of the jail is expected to be rebuilt to accommodate some of the Afghan prisoners, including Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects, being held in the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Taliban have been battling President Hamid Karzai’s government since they were toppled from power in a US-led operation in 2001 for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
Pul-e-Charkhi also houses self-styled US vigilante Jonathan “Jack” Idema, convicted in September 2004 of running a private jail and torturing Afghans suspected of links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He has his own, separate block.