One of the ways that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has been able to rebuild itself has been through attacks on prisons to release their commanders and hardened fighters. For the last few years these operations have repeatedly occurred throughout central and northern Iraq with great success leading to the escape of hundreds of insurgents. ISIS actually failed twice to break out its members from Badush prison in Ninewa, but that was not for a lack of trying.
For almost a year ISIS targeted prison guards at Badush in order to facilitate an escape. That started in 2013, and resulted in 200 guards quitting in December after facing threats and assassinations. Those attacks continued for those remaining on duty into 2014. On January 7 for example, one guard was shot down in Mosul. The point of these operations was to soften up the prison for an attack, which was launched on February 6. ISIS fired mortars at the facility while prisoners inside started a riot. The assault was repelled, but not before 1 guard and three prisoners were killed, and 14 others wounded. The Islamic State didn’t give up however. On February 9 it bombed a house of a guard. February 20 it kidnapped and killed a worker at the prison. February 23 it set off an improvised explosive device (IED) that killed another guard. March 2 it shot a guard, and another the next day. Again these were preparatory operations before another attempt to break into Badush. That finally happened on March 22, but again the militants were beaten off. In the aftermath the director of the prison was replaced and put under investigation for possible links to the insurgents. This was one of the few times that the Islamic State failed to break into a prison and free its compatriots. It did reveal some of the organizations tradecraft. It collected intelligence on where the guards lived and travelled to and from work and hit them over and over for months. It also either bribed or threatened the head of the prison to gain inside information about the prison population and security practices. While this careful planning didn’t work in the case of Badush it has at other prisons such as Abu Ghraib and Kadhimiya that were hit last year.
While ISIS has been able to draw upon new recruits from Syria and other countries, it has relied upon prison breaks in part to rebuild its leadership. It has launched a number of attacks upon detention facilities with varying degrees of success. While it failed to get its people out of Badush it did severely weaken the facility’s staff through attacks, intimidation, and likely bribery. Its months of preparation didn’t work in its two attacks upon Badush, but it won’t stop from trying again either there or upon another prison in another part of Iraq in the future.
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- "IED explosion targets employee in Mosul," 2/23/14
- "Prison guard killed in Mosul," 1/7/14
- "Under-construction house detonated in western Mosul," 2/9/14
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- "Gunmen assassinate a lawyer in Mosul," 3/3/14
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- "Foiled attempt to break into Badush prison northwest of Mosul," 3/22/14