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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prisoners Take Over Afghan Jail

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Hundreds of Afghan soldiers with tanks and grenade-launchers surrounded Kabul's main prison Sunday after convicted terrorists incited a riot by inmates and seized control of much of the facility, officials said.

As night fell, government negotiators suspended talks to end the standoff at the notorious Policharki jail, which later this year is slated to receive dozens of Afghans currently in U.S. military custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Rioting broke out late Saturday in Block Two of the prison, which houses about 1,300 of its 2,000 inmates, after prisoners refused to put on new uniforms, delivered in response to a breakout last month by seven Taliban prisoners who had successfully disguised themselves as visitors.

Officials said some 350 al-Qaida and Taliban were among the inmates in that prison block. Abdul Salaam Bakshi, chief of prisons in Afghanistan, accused them of inciting the other prisoners, mostly common criminals.

He said inmates failed to escape from the prison block, but that guards had been forced out. Gunfire rang out periodically through most of Sunday as hundreds of police and army forces were deployed to prevent a break out.

"We have surrounded the jail. There's no way to escape," said Deputy Justice Minister Mohammed Qasim Hashimzai.

But it appeared security forces had yet to gain access inside parts of the jail under prisoners' control, so officials could not confirm reports of casualties. Local media reported several killed and dozens injured.

Hashimzai, who was part of a government delegation that came to negotiate with the prisoners, said at least four inmates had been hurt but no guards.

He said about 100 of the rioters from Block No. 2 had taken control of the neighboring wing of the jail housing about 70 women.

Another senior government official, who refused to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the prisoners had dug a tunnel to that wing -- explaining how they had managed to infiltrate it.

Hashimzai said attempts to negotiate the release of the women from the rioters' control floundered because of disunity among the inmates and confusion over their various demands. Prisoners had also backtracked on an agreement to hand over their injured to the International Committee of the Red Cross for treatment, he said.

"Unfortunately, the prisoners have no unity and have different demands. There's no one leader who can talk to us," said Hashimzai as he left the prison around dusk, adding officials would try and resume negotiations Monday.

He gave no details about the various demands, but Ezamary, an army battalion commander deployed at the prison, said inmates had dropped notes from the windows complaining about the justice system and prison conditions.

"We are human beings!" he also quoted inmates as shouting. Others could be heard bellowing, "God is Great!" between the volleys of gunfire.

Bakshi said rioters did not have guns but had armed themselves with small knives and clubs fashioned from wrecked furniture. Smoke could be seen curling out of some cell windows, where inmates had apparently set fire to bedding and furniture.

Policharki, which lies on the eastern outskirts of Kabul, was built in the 1970s and has earned notoriety for its harsh and crowded conditions.