An attack on a prisoner transferring transport occurred in Chamchamal, Kurdistan Monday night (1/15/2018) around 0230. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) counter-terror unit responded and swiftly neutralized the attempted hijackers. As a result, three of the gunmen were injured and the 4th killed by direct fire. This was a coordinated and well-planned attack; this is also one of the first of its kind to occur in the Kurdistan region. It has not been made known if the attackers were affiliated with the Islamic State at this time.

A statement that was later released today by the PUK counter-terror forces read, “At 02:30 am last night, while the counter-terrorism forces were protecting the transportation of a number of terrorist prisoners to Suse prison, they were attacked by heavily armed gunmen. The forces responded and as a result one person was killed, three injured, and five who had participated in the attack were detained and are being interrogated.”

The transfer of the prisoners was due to the closure of their original prison in Chamchamal, White Castle, under direct orders from the Minister of Interior for Iraq. They were headed to an existing prison located in Peramagroon, Fort Suse federal prison, just outside of Sulaymaniah. In an effort to inform public opinion, the Mayor of Chamchamal stated to local press, “The clashes took place due to a misunderstanding that led to the death of one person and two injuries.”

Local News source Rudaw later reported that, “The gunmen are from Chamchamal, 104 km southeast of Erbil. They had a contract with the Iraqi government to provide food and basic essentials to the prisoners and feared they would not be financially reimbursed if the prisoners are removed from Chamchamal.” The majority of the prisoners being transferred had been convicted or charged with terrorism-related activity.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Ministers media officer later said, “The counter-terrorism forces were transporting the prisoners under the auspices of the KRG and were planned to be transported to Suse prison, but problems occurred between them and some gunmen who were working in the prison.”

White Castle federal prison, had previously held up to 30,000 prisoners before its demanded closure. It was shut down by the Iraqi government and had all of its prisoners gradually transferred under the oversight of the Kurdish Regional Government to Fort Suse. Around 200 prisoners have been transferred weekly since then and the process is still ongoing. Both facilities, while under Kurdish operation, are controlled by the Iraqi government. Fort Suse finds its heritage in the regime of Saddam Hussein and was renovated in 2004 by U.S. coalition forces for the purpose of housing high value prisoners from all over Iraq.