These days, inmates at Iran’s Rajai Shahr Prison – which is about 20km west of Tehran -- are all talking about rumors of a foiled ISIS plot to free ISIS and Al Qaeda supporters.
Mohammad, an inmate at Rajai Shahr who says he supports ISIS, told IranWire, “It happened during winter. A few supporters of ISIS bought a villa close to the prison and started digging a tunnel. They also had accurate plans of the prison. Unfortunately, the prison’s security guards discovered the plan and foiled it. Organizing such a plan is a very simple matter for ISIS. ISIS is a powerful international organization with many facilities, and it protects its members well.” He says prison authorities transferred ISIS and Al Qaeda supporters to a special ward following the attempt.
A former inmate of that ward remembers the transfer. “It was late winter when they transferred us all from Ward 7 to Fashafuyeh Prison [in southern Tehran]. It was rumored that they were transferring us so they could bring in ISIS members. Security-wise, Ward 7 is well fortified, and its floor is made up of two reinforced concrete layers. It also has no windows. The rumor was that ISIS wanted to free ISIS prisoners through a complex scheme. One night armed prison guards entered the Al Qaeda ward. They divided the inmates into two groups and transferred one group to Ward 7.”
Another inmate who goes by the name Hessam recalls what a prison guard told him. “On a cold winter night the guard dogs were restless and were howling,” he says. “These dogs are well trained to prevent prisoners from attempting to escape. That night the guards unleashed the dogs and they all rushed towards a distant and deserted corner of the prison yard. When the guards inspected the place they discovered a narrow tunnel leading from that corner to a house next to the prison. After they worked out the direction of the tunnel, they moved ISIS inmates to Ward 7.”
Another prisoner, Parviz, believes that after news about ISIS prison breaks in Iraq and Afghanistan, ISIS commanders must have thought that they could pull the same thing off in Iran.“There are close to 30 inmates among the Al Qaeda supporters who have been sentenced to death,” says Parviz. “Their sentences are final and they are waiting to be executed. Some of them were injured in a shootout when they were arrested.”
There are other inmates who believe that the story about the plan to free ISIS or Al Qaeda supporters is just a fanciful rumor. Among the doubters is another ISIS inmate who spoke to IranWire. “Iran is different from Iraq and Afghanistan, where every day ISIS engages in operations at will,” he says. “To arrange for a prison break, specific tools and facilities are needed, but in Iran, ISIS lacks such tools and facilities.”
But Hooshang, an inmate at Ward 11, argues that something must have been going on. “The report that there was a plan for a prison break cannot be wrong,” he says. “The transfers and the reactions of prison officials give it credence. Who knows if it was Al Qaeda or ISIS that came up with the scheme? Whoever it was, the scheme was defective. Even if the tunnel was completed, those who were coming in to release the prisoners had to go by the guardhouse. This was the only possible route. And if their plan had taken this into account, then they would have needed to be ready for an armed clash.”
But while the story, true or not, may be the talk of Rajai Shahr Prison, neither prison officials nor higher-ranking Iranian authorities have reacted to the rumors.