BAGHDAD, March 26: US military police have discovered two long tunnels dug with scraps of metal and wood leading out of the largest detention facility in Iraq, military officials said on Saturday. The tunnels — one 200 metres long and the other 100 metres long — led out of cell blocks at Camp Bucca, a US-run facility near the southern Iraq town of Umm Qasr, where more than 6,000 detainees are held. They were discovered on Thursday, before anyone had a chance to escape, Lt Col Guy Rudisill, spokesman for detainee operations in Iraq, said. The longer tunnel ran about four to five metres underground and was wide enough for a large man to crawl through. It had completely cleared the prison’s security fences, while the other one had not reached out of the compound. “Thanks to some good detective work, we managed to find them before anyone escaped,” Col Rudisill said.
The discoveries were made after a military policeman on a routine check last week found a five-foot hole — possibly the beginning of a third tunnel — and raised the alarm.
Extensive searching revealed the other two tunnels.
The longer one began under wooden flooring in a lounge-type room of a cell block housing between 25 and 30 people, Col Rudisill said. It was concealed by dirt and was not visible from the US military’s guard posts.
Most of the digging, using makeshift tools such as bits of plastic, metal and wood, is believed to have gone on at night.
Col Rudisill said officials had no idea how long the excavations had been going on, but said the tunnels led through fairly soft earth, meaning digging was relatively easy.
It is believed to be the most extensive attempted break-out from US jails in Iraq.
More checks were being made to ensure there were no more tunnels anywhere in the camp, which holds nearly two-thirds of all those detained by US-led forces in Iraq.
The camp commander had not yet decided what course of action to take against the attempted jail-breakers, none of whom were high-value detainees, Col Rudisill said.
The military policeman who made the original tunnel discovery was awarded a medal by General George Casey, the overall commander of troops in Iraq.