BAGHDAD, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Up to 52 prisoners were killed during a militant attack on a police station in Iraq's eastern province of Diyala, security and medical sources said on Tuesday.
"Security forces repelled an attack by the terrorist gangs on a police station of al-Mafraq area in western Baquba and killed 52 detainees by hand grenades and mortar shelling," Lieutenant General Qassim Atta, security spokesman of Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki, told reporters.
Atta also confirmed that the forces have repelled the attackers in western Diyala's provincial capital city of Baquba, some 65 km northeast of Baghdad.
A police source in the province put the number of the killed detainees at 44, saying that the medical reports showed that some of them were killed by bullets, others were suffocated to death by smoke and others by shrapnel.
Most of the killed detainees faced suspected charges of terrorism, and a few of them were held for criminal charges, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
However, residents in the city held the forces responsible for the killing of detainees, but the authorities denied the accusation, according to the provincial source.
Earlier in the day, Major General Jamil al-Shimary, Diyala's provincial police chief told Xinhua that hundreds of Sunni militants, including the militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaida offshoot, attacked the western suburbs of Baquba and clashed fiercely with the troops.
The clashes which erupted late on Monday night and continued to early in the morning left nine Sunni militants and two policemen killed, along with wounding six policemen, by the attack on the police station and another military base in al-Mafraq area, al- Shimary said.
Diyala province, which stretches from eastern edges of Baghdad to the Iranian border, has long been the stronghold of al-Qaida militant groups and hotbed of insurgency and sectarian violence since the U.S.-led invasion broke out in 2003.
The security deterioration in Iraq started last week when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and hundreds of gunmen who took control of several neighborhoods in western part of Mosul and expanded later to other areas and provinces after the Iraqi security forces withdrew from the city.