Hundreds of prisoners in Pakistani prison were released yesterday after a daring assault by Taliban fighters.
Of the 944 prisoners the facility held, 384 escaped, Pakistan officials confirmed. Some of those who initially escaped had returned voluntarily by Monday, but most were still the target of a massive military manhunt by Pakistani forces.
The assualt on the prison facility came on the same day as large-scale coordinated Taliban attacks took place across neighboring Afghanistan.
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Associated Press reports:
The attackers stormed the prison before dawn in the city of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province close to the Afghan border, said police officer Shafique Khan. They used explosives and hand grenades to knock down the main gates and two walls, said Bannu prison superintendent Zahid Khan.
"They were carrying modern and heavy weapons," said Zahid Khan. "They fired rockets."
Once inside the building, the attackers headed straight to the area of the prison where death-row prisoners were being kept, he said. They fought with guards for around two hours, setting part of the prison on fire before freeing the 380 inmates, including at least 20 "very dangerous Taliban militants," said Shafique.
Provincial police chief Akbar Hoti said authorities suspected the militants may have had inside help from prison officials.
"I think the officials did not respond as they could have," Hoti told reporters. "It is also suspicious how the attackers could have exact information about their comrades."
The militants coordinated with each other using radio handsets as they freed their colleagues in different parts of the prison, said one of the prisoners who did not escape, Amanullah Khan.
"They had hammers to break the locks and doors," he said. "They shot at locks when they failed to break them open."
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Agence France-Presse adds:
Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was launched to get their special members freed.
The attack started at around 1:00 am (2000 GMT Saturday) and continued for two hours, with militants in cars and pick-up trucks shooting and lobbing grenades to force their way into the prison, which had some 944 prisoners.
A large number of militants had recently been moved to the jail from neighbouring Kohat and Lakki Marwat prisons, which are being converted into centres to rehabilitate former insurgents.
A former member of the airforce sentenced to death for an attack on former president Pervez Musharraf was among the escaped militants, according to officials.
Adnan Rasheed was convicted after a bomb planted under a bridge in Rawalpindi near Islamabad in December 2003 exploded moments after the passing of Musharraf's motorcade. His appeal is pending before the Supreme Court.
Authorities shut down the mobile phone network in the area and army troops along with paramilitary forces and police launched a search operation in the area.
Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border is rife with homegrown insurgents, Al-Qaeda operatives and Taliban, who are understood to use rear bases in Pakistan to plot attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan.
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