Iraq frees 1,500 from underground Islamic State jail

As government forces advance, troops discover previously unknown prison in strategic Anbar town of Hit

A member of Iraqi government forces inspects a burnt vehicle with a flag of the Islamic State (IS) on its top after they retook an area from jihadists on April 2, 2016 in the village of Al-Mamoura, near Hit, a Euphrates Valley town located about 145 kilometers west of Baghdad in the western province of Anbar. (Moadh al-Dulaimi/AFP)
A member of Iraqi government forces inspects a burnt vehicle with a flag of the Islamic State (IS) on its top after they retook an area from jihadists on April 2, 2016 in the village of Al-Mamoura, near Hit, a Euphrates Valley town located about 145 kilometers west of Baghdad in the western province of Anbar. (Moadh al-Dulaimi/AFP)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces freed a large number of prisoners from an underground Islamic State group jail during a battle to retake a western town from the jihadists, officials said on Saturday.

Security forces have recaptured parts of Hit, which was one of the largest population centers in Anbar province still held by IS, but other areas remain under jihadist control.

“During their advance to liberate and clear the town of Hit from the (IS) organization, security forces were able to discover a large prison,” police Colonel Fadhel al-Nimrawi said.

“The prison was underground” and held 1,500 people, who were freed by security forces, Nimrawi said.

Malallah al-Obeidi, a local official in Anbar, also put the number of freed prisoners at around 1,500, saying most of them were civilians.

Muhannad al-Dulaimi, the official responsible for the Hit area, also confirmed the discovery of a “large prison” in the town, but did not say how many people it held.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but security forces have since regained significant ground from the jihadists.

After the recapture of Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi, Hit and the city of Fallujah were two of the largest population centers still held by jihadists in Anbar.

Iraq began a broad offensive to retake Heet in mid-March, but a significant number of troops were pulled out of Anbar to protect protesters in Baghdad, which may have delayed the drive.

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