KABUL (AFP) -About 1,300 prisoners, many of them from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, seized control of a block at Afghanistan’s main jail after a riot in which up to 20 inmates were hurt, officials said.
The riot at the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of the capital erupted late Saturday with prisoners setting alight mattresses, clothes and their beds, Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Qasim Hashimzai told AFP on Sunday.
It appeared to have been sparked by resistance to new prison uniforms although some reports said it was staged by Taliban members trying to escape.
Prison guards opened fire to stop the unrest spreading throughout the complex which holds about 2,000 people, Hashimzai said.
“According to the prison guards, four to five people have been wounded but according to the rioters, they say they have 20 people who are wounded,” he said. A prison guard was also slightly wounded.
He could not confirm reports that some of the rioters had been killed.
The prisoners were refusing to hand over the injured for treatment.
“They have control of the wounded prisoners and they are not giving them to us so that we can treat them. We have doctors and ambulances ready here,” Hashimzai said.
The rioters had broken through walls separating different sections of the block, including a women’s section, and “have joined together and organised a riot,” he said.
“We have created a security cordon around the block. We have control of the prison except for this one block,” he said.
The deputy minister dismissed reports that male prisoners had taken some women hostage and were threatening to kill them if their demands were not met.
Soldiers and police reinforcements had surrounded the jail and human rights officials had arrived to try to negotiate with the rioters.
Hashimzai said the prisoners had introduced a representative for talks and presented a list of demands, including that they did not have to wear the new uniforms.
Another demand was the removal of the grille separating prisoners from their visitors, he said. “It is good that negotiations have started,” he said.
Defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said about 150 soldiers from the army’s quick reaction unit had surrounded the prison perimeter and were considering forcing their way in.
Hashimzai said there were about 1,350 prisoners in the seized block. “About 350 are Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Among them are also prisoners from other countries. The rest of them are criminal prisoners,” he said.
Seven low- to mid-ranking Taliban prisoners escaped from Pul-e-Charkhi a month ago.
Five guards and four inmates with suspected links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban died during a stand-off there in December 2004. Three of the dead were Pakistanis and one was an Iraqi.
The Taliban have been battling the new government of President Hamid Karzai since they were toppled from power in a US-led operation for failing to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.