Premature blast kills 15 Iraqi soldiers

Tragedy struck when troops were preparing to destroy confiscated weapons.

Gulf News

Baghdad: A controlled explosion of weapons confiscated by the Iraqi military went awry on Friday, killing 15 Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi military officials said.

The blast took place in an area where American and Iraqi forces routinely carry out explosions to destroy weapons seized during raids in and around the northern city of Mosul, which the US military has called the last stronghold of Al Qaida in Iraq.

The incident came as questions continued to be raised about the capabilities of Iraqi security forces a day after 16 prisoners - including five Al Qaida-linked inmates awaiting execution - escaped from a jail in Saddam Hussain's hometown of Tikrit.

The explosion occurred while the soldiers were preparing the materials for the controlled explosion just east of Mosul, 360 kilometres north of Baghdad, said two military officials.

Witnesses said American soldiers had cordoned off the area. The US military did not immediately respond to queries for additional details.

Meanwhile, the ringleader of a daring prison break and four other Al Qaida fugitives were recaptured yesterday.

Hundreds of police and soldiers were deployed on the streets of Tikrit, capital of Salaheddin province north of Baghdad, as part of a manhunt for the remaining 10 escapees, while about 100 guards and staff at the prison were being questioned.

"Early this morning, our forces arrested Waleed Ayash, one of the Al Qaida members who escaped from Tikrit prison on Wednesday evening," said a high-ranking police officer in the province.