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Militants Free 250 Inmates In Attack On Pakistani Prison

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Taliban militants have launched a coordinated assault on a prison in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan, reportedly freeing more than 250 prisoners.

Police chief Sohail Khalid said the militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns and assaulted the prison before midnight. The prison's walls were reportedly breached with bombs.

Regional commissoner Mushtaq Jadoon said "dangerous terrorists" were among those freed. Some of the escapees are said to be members of the Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been blamed for the killing of hundreds of Shi'ite civilians this year.

Jadoon also said at least 14 people were killed, six of them police officers.

"They first martyred prison security guards. Then they fired a rocket at an armored vehicle and killed four policemen," a prison guard named Zeeshan told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "They took one policeman and shot him dead on a square nearby. Around 60 blasts could be heard during the attack that went on for up to two hours. Then they broke into the prison and took 200 to 250 inmates with them. They also killed four prisoners, all of whom were Shi'ite."

Pakistani officials described the assault as sophisticated. Militants seized buildings near the prison, including a hospital, and fired on security forces from the rooftops. The militants also took occupants of the buildings hostage, complicating efforts by police and security forces to regain control of the area.

Jadoon said the police were in control inside the prison but added that the militants had planted dozens of explosives inside the prison. He said 14 of the bombs had already been defused.

Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group was responsible for the attack. Shahid claimed some 150 Taliban fighters, including eight suicide bombers, had freed around 300 prisoners.

Fighting lasted for several hours.

Police and security forces are searching for militants in the region.

Jadoon said that army reinforcements have been called in.

Khalid Abbas, inspector-general of Pakistan's prisons, said the provincial and national government needed to take serious measures to avoid further jailbreaks.

"It's high time the government took it seriously. Either the government should voluntarily hand over jails to [the Taliban] or it should take serious measures and build a high-security prison [for terrorists and sectarian militants]," he said. "The existing jails have been built to keep ordinary prisoners. I warned the government one and a half years ago after the Bannu jailbreak, and repeated once again today on [Radio Mashaal], that regardless if I stay in this position or not, if the government does not take serious measures, another attack will turn out the same way.”

In April 2012, Taliban militants launched a large-scale attack on a prison in the city of Bannu, also in northwest Pakistan. That attack freed nearly 400 prisoners, including at least 20 people Pakistani authorities described as "very dangerous."

Dera Ismail Khan is located in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, near Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, where the Taliban and members of militant groups such as Al-Qaeda are known to have bases.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa