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The massive explosion, heard across the Afghanistan's second-largest city, destroyed the gate and a police checkpoint, burying guards under rubble and killing scores.
Witnesses said as many as 30 motorcycles then raced forward, carrying armed men firing rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and AK-47s. A second hole was blasted in a rear wall of the prison, the largest such facility in southern Afghanistan.
During the ensuing 20-minute battle inside the prison and in the city's west side, hundreds of prisoners were able to flee.
Wali Karzai, president of Kandahar's provincial council and the brother of President Hamid Karzai, told local reporters a short time later that all the inmates had fled. Late into the night, however, it remained unclear exactly how many escaped from the prison, which houses almost 1,200 inmates, including about 400 Taliban militants.