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Taliban storm Bannu jail, free 384 prisoners

16 April, 2012

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PESHAWAR: Dozens of Taliban stormed a prison in Bannu early on Sunday and freed nearly 400 inmates, including one on death row for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf, officials said.

"Between 1:30am and 2am, dozens of armed militants stormed the prison and attacked the facility from all sides with heavy weapons," Bannu Prison Superintendent Zahid Khan told reporters.

Sources said the attack by around 200 militants was aimed at rescuing Adnan Rashid, a Taliban militant who was convicted of an attack on Musharraf.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We attacked the Bannu prison and got our special members freed," Ehsan told reporters on phone.

"In a couple of days when all of them have reached their designated places we will issue details about them. At the moment I cannot give you exact numbers."

The attack continued for two hours, with terrorists in cars and pick-up trucks shooting and lobbing grenades to force their way into the prison, a security official told AFP.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said some 384 prisoners escaped the prison, adding that there were "at least 20 dangerous prisoners and some militants", among the escapees.

"We will investigate why militants were able to carry out such an attack successfully and what the security was doing," he said.

Hussain said the militants blocked all roads leading to the prison to delay the arrival of any reinforcements and targeted six barracks where "dangerous insurgents" were being kept.

Security forces cordoned off the area and arrested some of the escapees, while others returned voluntarily saying they had fled to avoid the gunfire, he said.

Authorities had shut down the mobile phone network in the area and army troops along with paramilitary forces and police had launched a search operation in the area.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home Secretary Azam Khan said 11 prisoners were arrested while 29, including a woman, returned to jail themselves.

"We have expanded the search operation in the neighbouring towns of Kohat and Lakki Marwat," Khan told AFP.

Three police guards received bullet wounds during the attack, Bannu police chief Iftikhar Khan told reporters. "The attackers outnumbered the security forces at the prison and militants fled before reinforcements reached the jail," he said.

"The attackers were shouting 'Adnan Rashid… where are you?'" said one prisoner who returned after going underground to avoid being hurt in the attack.

However, another account was that the attackers went straight to the barrack where Adnan Rashid was lodged. "After taking target in their custody, the militants forced other prisoners to flee," said sources close to prison authorities in Bannu.

According to the sources, the inquiry will focus on the response of police guarding the facility and that "why the movement of around 200 militants was not noticed at any point".

A security official questioned lodging militants such as Adnan Rashid to Bannu prison where chances of such attacks are higher due to its close proximity with North Waziristan.

"I think we put Adnan Rashid on a plate for the militants by lodging him in Bannu," the official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban mission to get "special members" continued for two hours and no reinforcement arrived to fail the attack, the sources said.

Mobile phone data of police guards at the prison would be analysed to find any "inside support" for the attack, KP police chief Akbar Hoti said, adding that every aspect of the attack would be scrutinised during the investigation. The prison in Bannu housed 944 inmates.

End.

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