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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 17:32 GMT
Fort revolt: What really happened?
Local Red Cross workers arrive to remove bodies from fort near Mazar-e-Sharif
Hundreds are thought to have died
On Saturday 24 November a Taleban prisoner held by the Northern Alliance in Qala-e-Jhangi fort near Mazar-e-Sharif killed himself and an alliance police chief by setting off a hidden grenade.

The next day, several hundred Taleban prisoners launched a revolt in the fortress. A riot began at 1125 local time (0655 GMT) in the central compound. There are conflicting reports about what triggered the three-day battle, during which up to 400 Taleban prisoners are believed to have been killed. BBC News Online pieces together what happened.

CIA presence

The first shots and explosions were heard while Taleban fighters were being tied up and two CIA agents were questioning them about al-Qaeda. One CIA officer was killed almost immediately. The other escaped and called in the American planes which started bombing the fort on Sunday afternoon. Red Cross workers were also inside the compound for a meeting with local leaders.

A Northern Alliance tank at the fort
The last two Taleban prisoners were killed by tank fire
Some of the 500 Taleban prisoners - all thought to be foreign fighters, including Chechens, Arabs and Pakistanis - had apparently managed to conceal weapons in their clothing.

Reports from Mazar-e-Sharif suggest that it was the presence of American agents in the fort that set in motion the bloody chain of events.

Soon after the death of the CIA agent, Northern Alliance troops and prisoners were exchanging fire with grenade launchers, machine guns and tanks.

The surviving agent apparently used a satellite phone to call the US embassy in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, for help.

Soon after the phone call, about a dozen US and British forces are reported to have arrived on the scene to co-ordinate the Northern Alliance's assault and US air strikes.

Six American soldiers are reported to have positioned themselves in a corner of the fort - the rest fired on the prisoners from outside the compound.

A Northern Alliance fighter cries over the body of a killed relative
The Northern Alliance suffered heavy casualties
The CIA agent then escaped by scaling the walls of the fort overnight. The Red Cross workers also managed to escape.

US planes bombed the fort for two nights.

One of the 200kg American 'smart' bombs missed its target by 600ft (180 metres), killing several alliance fighters and wounding five American soldiers.

Last stand

On Monday, Pentagon and Northern Alliance spokesmen were reported as saying the uprising had been put down and the situation was under control.

British forces in Mazar-e-Sharif
British and American forces helped direct the onslaught

But Red Cross officials travelling towards the fort to pick up the bodies were forced to turn back after encountering fierce fighting.

Hundreds of prisoners had already been killed, but the survivors kept up the fight, firing rocket-propelled grenades at the alliance soldiers.

By Monday evening, some 2,000 alliance soldiers were reported to be inside the fortress.

Next morning, lorries carrying 200 alliance reinforcements and anti-aircraft guns arrived at the compound to fight what the alliance said were the last 10 remaining Taleban prisoners.

More US and British special forces were also reported to have arrived in the area and were said to be moving in and out of the fort. According to the British newspaper, The Guardian, they advised the alliance to pour oil into the basement of the fort and set fire to it.

foreign pro-Taleban fighter captured in northern Afghanistan
The prisoners had surrendered to the alliance on Saturday

After what appeared to have been the last shots coming from the prisoners, several deafening explosions were heard.

The alliance believed that the last two surviving insurgents had been killed by tank shells.

But on Friday, 13 prisoners emerged from the fort's basement and surrendered.

The rest gave themselves up on Saturday after alliance soldiers flooded their hiding place in the basement.


Once the uprising appeared to have been quelled on Tuesday, the scale of the carnage began to emerge.

Hundreds of dismembered bodies were found scattered across the fortress.

At least 400 prisoners are believed to have been killed - so were dozens of alliance fighters.

A photographer said he saw the bodies of three Taleban prisoners lying on a ditch - one with a rope around his neck.

Reports also emerged that prisoners' bodies had been seen with their hands tied behind their backs.

Questions are now being asked about the events that triggered the bloody rebellion and its handling.

The United Nations has added its voice to Amnesty International's calls for an urgent inquiry into the uprising.

General Dostum has denied charges that the prisoners were treated badly and insists they attacked his men.

Correspondents said the testimony of the surviving prisoners could be crucial in establishing how the violence began.

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh
"A three day orgy of violence"
Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty UK
"Proper measures should be taken to prevent any recurrence"
See also:

28 Nov 01 | South Asia
Carnage after Taleban revolt
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Taleban prison revolt
28 Nov 01 | Media reports
Regional caution over US deployment
24 Nov 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
In the wake of the Taleban
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Kunduz 'tragedy'
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Meeting Taleban's foreign fighters
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bloodbath at Afghan fort
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