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Escape tunnel discovered at U.S.-run prison camp in Iraq

UMM QASR, Iraq—The weight of a fuel truck collapsed the roof of an escape tunnel being dug out of Camp Bucca, where more than 6,000 suspected terrorists and insurgents are being held.

Prison authorities said Sunday the shaft was discovered Thursday when one of the truck's tires plunged into the earth between the two main fences on the camp's perimeter.

No one escaped. A small number of ringleaders involved in the attempt were placed in isolation, authorities said.

The 300-foot burrow, about wide enough for a man to crawl through, was four feet underground and poorly constructed, said Capt. Jerry Baird Jr. of Nebo, N.C., part of the HHC 105 MP Battalion of the North Carolina Army National Guard from Asheville.

"These guys were amateurs. They would have died in that tunnel," Baird said. "It would have caved in on them."

The tunnel was found not far from where an earlier, sophisticated 600-foot tunnel was dug this year by detainees. Acting on a tip from someone in the camp, authorities discovered it before it could be used.

On Friday, the initial excavations for another tunnel project were also discovered, Baird said.

Infrared cameras, ground monitors, sensors and guard towers monitor the two and three-quarter-mile perimeter of Camp Bucca, where 6,474 men were being held Sunday in nine compounds. The camp, one of the largest detention facilities in the world, is in southern Iraq near the Kuwait border.

Authorities also dig trenches with backhoes around the fences looking for tunnels, but find their adversaries are quick learners. "We try to be proactive and dig," said Maj. Robert Kricko of Greenville, Tenn., the camp's executive officer. "They figure out how deep we can dig and they dig deeper."

Boredom and an idle labor force contribute to the camp's security problems, authorities say. Programs to teach literacy and math have recently been launched and a movie night may be started this week as a reward for good behavior, said the camp's public affairs officer, Capt. Diana Stumpf of Asheville.

"We're not going to show `The Great Escape,'" she said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-TUNNEL

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