Alexa

4 al-Qaida prisoners escape US custody in Iraq

 Iraqi security forces patrol a street in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
 An Iraqi police officer uses a bomb detector at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
 FILE - In this Thursday, July 15, 2010 file photo, Iraq's Minister of Justice Dara Noureddin, left, and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, right, hold...
 FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, detainees are seen outside their cell block at the U.S. detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, Iraq....
 Iraqi policemen check out a vehicle at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. Officer at right is using a bomb detector. (AP...
 FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, detainees perform their daily prayers at the U.S. detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, Iraq. Four ...
 An Iraqi police officer scans the area during a patrol in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Iraq Violence

Iraqi security forces patrol a street in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Iraq Security

An Iraqi police officer uses a bomb detector at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

IRAQ

FILE - In this Thursday, July 15, 2010 file photo, Iraq's Minister of Justice Dara Noureddin, left, and U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, right, hold...

IRAQ

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, detainees are seen outside their cell block at the U.S. detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, Iraq....

Iraq Security

Iraqi policemen check out a vehicle at a checkpoint in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. Officer at right is using a bomb detector. (AP...

IRAQ

FILE - In this Nov. 10, 2008 file photo, detainees perform their daily prayers at the U.S. detention facility at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, Iraq. Four ...

Iraq Security

An Iraqi police officer scans the area during a patrol in central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

Four prisoners with links to al-Qaida being guarded by American troops escaped from a maximum-security prison in Baghdad and are still at large, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Thursday.
The breakout from Karkh Prison, formerly called Camp Cropper, is an embarrassment for the U.S. military, which has handed over control of all of the detention facilities it used to run to the Iraqi government. But at the request of the Iraqis, the U.S. has retained custody over some of the most dangerous prisoners, including those with ties to terrorist groups or Saddam Hussein's former regime.
U.S. troops found two detainees attempting to escape from the compound on Wednesday evening, the military said in a statement. When they conducted a sweep of the whole facility, they discovered that four other detainees were missing.
"U.S. Forces-Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces and the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) are working to apprehend these individuals," said Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, head of American detainee operations in Iraq. "This event is under investigation."
There was no details on how the escape happened, who was to blame or who the people were that escaped.
An Iraqi military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, told The Associated Press that the Americans informed them Thursday morning that four Iraqis being held by the U.S. had broken out of the facility, although it was not clear exactly when or how they escaped.
He said the men were linked to al-Qaida and facing the death penalty.
The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki discussed the prison break during a high-level meeting Thursday, said an official with knowledge of the meeting.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Austin apologized to al-Maliki and said the people responsible for the escape would be held accountable.
An Iraqi security official said Iraqi troops had cordoned off the area near the prison _ including the Jihad neighborhood and the airport, where the facility is located, as part of the search for the fugitives. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Jihad residents said there was an intense Iraqi military presence in the neighborhood, and locals were banned from driving.
On July 15, the U.S. military handed over about 1,500 prisoners to Iraqi authorities during the changing of the guard at Camp Cropper, but continued to hold on to some 200 detainees at the request of the Iraqi government. They are kept in a separate part of the prison dubbed Compound 5, and guarded by American soldiers.
The prisoners who remain in U.S custody are "former regime elements, al-Qaida operatives and very dangerous detainees," said Cannon during a previous interview. He said they would eventually be handed over to the Iraqi government before American forces pull out of the country entirely by the end of next year.
Thursday's escape is the second since the U.S. transferred custody of the detention facility to the Iraqis.
Just a week after the handover, four al-Qaida-linked detainees awaiting trial on terrorism charges escaped from the Iraqi section of the prison.
The $48 million complex has been used by U.S. forces since April 2003 and can hold up to 4,000 prisoners. It's now divided into six detainee compounds, and is manned by 700 Iraqi corrections officers and about 100 support staff.
The prison once held Saddam Hussein and other senior members of his regime.
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Associated Press writer Barbara Surk contributed to this report.