Hundreds of prisoners escape in Taliban jail attack
PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Agence France-Presse
A plainclothes police officer takes a photo with his mobile phone of a damaged gate of center jail caused by Taliban militants attacked, Tuesday, July 30, 2013 in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. AP PhotoTaliban insurgents freed hundreds of prisoners including hard-line militants in a brazen assault on a jail in northwest Pakistan that was bombarded with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, officials said on July 30.
At least 13 people including six police, four prisoners and two attackers were killed in the overnight assault which triggered a three-hour gun battle between security forces and militants disguised in police uniforms, they said.
“A total of 243 prisoners have escaped, six of them were later arrested by police,” senior government official Mushtaq Jadoon told private TV channel ARY News, adding that “30 among the escaped prisoners were hardcore militants.”
The attack targeted the Central Prison in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, close to the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan where Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked insurgents are active.
A security official said the jail held up to 5,000 prisoners including around 300 militants involved in attacks on security forces and sectarian killings. Jadoon said the fighters had planted dozens of explosive devices in the jail which were later defused by bomb disposal experts.
“Police and other law enforcing agencies have cleared the jail,” he said, adding authorities had imposed a curfew on the city and asked residents to stay at home. “Through media, we appeal to the people to stay at home. It is to avoid any damage if army, police and paramilitary take any action,” he added. Jadoon said around 50 to 60 militants managed to enter the jail as others fired rockets from outside.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the jail attack. “Some 150 Taliban, including 60 suicide bombers, attacked the Central Prison and managed to free about 300 prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.
Provincial prisons chief Khalid Abbas said the gunfight raged for three hours, with militants wearing police uniforms entering the facility after bombing its outer wall and throwing hand grenades at prison guards. After the battle abated, security forces searched the prison which was plunged into darkness by an electricity outage, and counted inmates by flashlight to determine how many had escaped, he said. In April 2012, Taliban militants armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades battled their way into a prison in the city of Bannu in northwest Pakistan, freeing close to 400 prisoners, including at least 20 described by police as “very dangerous” insurgents.
One of the militants freed in that attack, Adnan Rasheed, recently gained attention by writing a letter to teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year in an attempt to kill her. Rasheed said he wished the attack hadn’t happened, but told Malala that she was targeted for speaking ill of the Taliban.
Pakistan is battling a Taliban-led domestic insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and security personnel since 2007. Washington considers the border tribal areas a major hub of Taliban and al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan.