PESHAWAR: Dozens of heavily-armed Pakistani Taliban insurgents freed nearly 175 inmates, including 35 ‘high-profile militants’, during a brazen overnight attack on the central jail in Dera Ismail Khan, officials said Tuesday.
At least nine people, including four policemen and five militants, were killed in the attack and the following shootout, said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shaukat Yousufzai.
KP chief minister Pervaiz Khattak termed the brazen attack a failure on the part of the intelligence agencies, and has vowed to punish those found guilty of negligence.
Khattak confirmed the number of escaped prisoners, including the 35 hardcore militants. Earlier unconfirmed intelligence reports had suggested at least 45 high profile militants were being held at the jail.
Heavily armed militants belonging to the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the prison from different sides around midnight.
Armed with guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and bombs, the militants dressed in police uniforms bombarded the prison before escaping with scores of inmates after a three-hour shootout.
According to police, the gunmen launched their attack with a series of heavy explosions before firing rocket propelled grenades and machine guns.
The attack began with a huge explosion and several smaller blasts before security forces engaged the attackers. An intelligence official said the militants shouted “God is great” and “Long live the Taliban”.
Military troops were eventually called in which conducted a six-hour long operation to take back control of the prison.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, accepted responsibility for the attack.
He claimed around 100 militants attacked the prison including a number of suicide bombers.
The D I Khan central prison, one of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s oldest and largest central jails, was said to house several Taliban militants and members of banned sectarian groups.
According to the jail authorities, there are at least 5000 prisoners in the Central Jail Dera Ismail Khan which is near the bordering town of Tank adjacent to volatile South Waziristan tribal agency.
Senior police official Khalid Abbas told that jail authorities had previously received a threatening letter regarding the attack. He claimed the prison was one of the safest in the province but said it was built to house ‘criminals’, not terrorists and militants.
This not the first instance when militants have attempted to free their captive associates in Pakistan. Nearly 400 prisoners including militants had escaped on April 15, 2012 from Bannu Jail after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets.
More than 150 heavily-armed militants had stormed the central prison outside the restive northwestern town of Bannu bordering the lawless tribal regions. TTP commander Adnan Rashid, who was serving a jail term for attacking former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, was among the freed detainees.
Rashid 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. Rashid said he wished the attack hadn’t happened, but told Malala that she was targeted for speaking ill of the Taliban.