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Greece: 2 hurt, 11 escape in prison shooting

  • Article by: COSTAS KANTOURIS
  • Associated Press
  • March 23, 2013 - 5:37 AM

TRIKALA, Greece - At least 11 inmates escaped from a Greek prison after gunmen brazenly attacked the site with grenades and automatic weapons, kicking off a nightlong standoff between police and prisoners. Two guards were injured, one of them seriously.

A senior police official told the Associated Press on Saturday that 11 inmates were missing after the gun battle and standoff, which ended at dawn when police special forces entered the prison. He spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement was still pending.

The incident occurred near the town of Trikala, in central Greece, some 320 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Athens. As many as six gunmen attacked the prison after driving up to the site in a van and pickup truck, according to officials.

Prison authorities were investigating reports that weapons had also been fired from inside the facility. At least five grenades exploded, while army experts were expected at the prison to dispose of two unexploded grenades.

The attack started at around 8:30 p.m. (1830GMT) Friday, when a police patrol jeep was fired upon.

"It was like a war was going on. There was so much gunfire," said Trikala city councilor Costas Tassios, who lives in the village of Krinitsa, near the prison.

A bullet fired at the village damaged a coffee shop window in an incident also being investigated by police.

The escaped prisoners used ropes to climb down from a guard tower that had been attacked. Police set up roadblocks near the prison and searched vacant homes and farm buildings, as well as using two helicopters, in the manhunt. Officers from evidence units were also scouring the jail perimeter after dawn.

Police said the escaped inmates were mostly Albanian but gave no other details. An inmate from Argentina was arrested but the circumstances of his apprehension were not immediately clear.

The attack was the latest dramatic incident at Greek prisons, which are suffering from serious overcrowding and staff shortages as the country struggles through financial crisis and a recession that started in late 2008.

Last month, guards foiled a breakout attempt by four inmates who tried to escape by helicopter from Trikala prison, including notorious Greek inmate Panagiotis Vlastos, who is serving life for murder and racketeering. Gunmen in the helicopter had fired on guards in the Feb. 24 incident and lowered a rope in to the courtyard, but the chopper was forced to land after being hit by returned gunfire.

In a separate incident on March 17, a convicted contract killer, Albanian inmate Alket Rizaj, took several prison guards hostage in an attempt to escape from another prison in central Greece. The attempt was unsuccessful and the hostages were released unharmed following a 24-hour standoff.

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