December 29, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – A group apparently affiliated with Al-Qaeda has published a video on Friday purportedly showing the escape of four men accused of killing an American diplomat and his driver almost five years ago from a maximum security prison in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
- Video footage showing Abdel-Basit Haj al-Hassan explaining their escape route from Kober prison in 2010.
John Granville, 33, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and his 40-year-old Sudanese driver Abdel-Rahman Abbas were hit in their car by a hail of bullets before dawn on 2008 New Year’s Day.
Sudanese authorities eventually managed to capture five men, believed to be belonging to the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Tawhid, and charged them with the killing of Granville and his driver.
Their names were Mohamed Makkawi, Abdel-Basit Haj al-Hassan, Mohannad Osman Youssef, Abdel-Ra’uf Abu-Zaid Mohamed Hamza and Murad Abdel-Rahman Abdullah.
Except for Abdullah a Sudanese court sentenced all the defendants to death by hanging in 2009. But the four managed to escape in June 2010 from Kober Federal prison under mysterious circumstances. Police at the time said that the prisoners used sewer pipes to flee.
Later it was revealed that the government re-arrested Hamza while the family of Youssef said he was killed in Somalia without giving details.
Many observers questioned how this could be possible given the tight security surrounding the facility from the inside and outside in addition to surveillance cameras installed. Some have went as far as accusing the government of facilitating their escape.
The YouTube video produced by a group calling itself ’Al-Hijratain for Media production’ explained in extensive details how the runaway was planned and executed.
A substantial portion of the 41-minute video was filmed from inside the prison in broad daylight raising questions about the level of security the prisoners were subject to.
- Video footage showing Mohamed Makkawi speaking about their escape from Kober prison in 2010.
Makkawi who had his face blurred started speaking on camera on how they began devising their escape plan from day one.
"When we entered the prison we entered just me and Abdel-Basit as the first batch. Abdel-Ra’uf and Mohannad were still in criminal investigations and have not yet been transferred to Kober prison. Brother Abdel-Basit brought up with me the idea of escaping. He conveyed me an idea and made several other suggestions for the two of us before the others joined us," Makkawi said.
"After that when the [two other] brothers came and we met and became all in one place we thought about escape but the place we were in was not suitable to execute the idea we had in mind until god blessed us when they [prison administration] moved us from the area we were in, the department of cells, to the political section," he added.
Makkawi said they were "inspired" in their plan by the prison break which occurred in February 2006 of twenty three al-Qaeda members in Yemen.
After their first death sentence was handed to them, the four of them were locked in chains pursuant to prison rules on those awaiting capital punishment, Makkawi said. He claimed that a section chains were welded together and as such had no keys to open them. The other section had the lock damaged to the point where even the keys could not open it.
But according to Makkawi they overcame this obstacle by using a handsaw to cut into the chains and also managed to steal keys from one of the guards which opened the locks despite being mutilated on purpose by the prison guards.
Another section of the video had al-Hassan, whose face was also blurred, demonstrate the escape using a design of the prison he drew on a blackboard apparently inside the prison as well.
"From here the digging began in the kitchen" al-Hassan said as he pointed to a room in the blackboard. "In the corner of the kitchen we started digging aiming at the goal of [reaching] the visitation room so that we are able to change clothes," he said.
"We started digging here. Of course there are tiles...Every day we started digging and it was covered in a way so even that if there is a search the prison administration could not discover [the hole]" al-Hassan added.
"We dug down for approximately 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). After we reached the depth from which we could enter inside, glory to god the dust turned [from clay soil] to sand" he said adding that this made it easy to dig except in certain areas.
He said the underground tunnel they dug after the initial 3.5 meters was the difficult part as it was not a straight line. In total they dug 38 meters (125 feet) to freedom. The video showed pictures from the inside of the tunnel that they dug through.
The four inmates dug between 0.5 and 1 meters daily using plumbing pipes through the kitchen floor every day after sunset prayers. After they finished they covered the hole in a way making it difficult for anyone to suspect anything.
Makkawi scoffed at government statements following the escape in which they said that the sand they dug out was dispensed in sewer pipes. He said that the sand was actually disposed in the prison yard after putting water on it. They even planted roses on top of it as camouflage. This process was also filmed from inside the prison.
The video will likely cause deep embarrassment to the government given the relative ease by which the convicts carried out their plan.
Parts of the video showed filming of Kober prison from outside by a group described as "support and surveillance" suggesting that the inmates received help from outside.
Sudanese police the four men after exiting the prison rode a Toyota Land cruiser which passed a checkpoint northwest of the twin capital city of Omdurman. The driver of the car refused to stop when ordered and fire exchange took place killing the police driver on spot.
Another police car attempted to carry on the pursuit but got into a wreck causing it to roll off the street upside down. The Toyota Land cruiser was found abandoned later with flat tires from bullets shot at by police.
The warden of Kober prison was suspended from duty over the incident but was later reinstated after being cleared from negligence.
The United States at the time had called on the Sudanese government to "initiate a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding this escape" and "to prosecute, to the full extent of the law, any individuals or groups found complicit in the escape of these criminals".
For a decade after Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, Sudan became a notorious refuge for militant Islamists.
These included Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US special forces in Pakistan last year and who was based in Khartoum between 1991 and 1996, where he ran a thriving construction business and built mujahideen training camps.
But in the last ten years Khartoum has stepped up its counter terrorism cooperation with the U.S. and denounced its support for militant groups.