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'Huge' Attack Frees Hundreds Of Pakistani Prisoners


The site of a suicide car bomb attack in Bannu in February 2009
The site of a suicide car bomb attack in Bannu in February 2009
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- An early morning attack on a jail in northwestern Pakistan has freed nearly 400 prisoners, including many men scheduled for execution.

Security forces were overwhelmed when militants armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades launched the attack on the central jail in the town of Bannu.

Pakistani officials suggested to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the militants appeared to be trying to free Adnan Rasheed, who was jailed in connection with a plot to assassinate former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

A guard at the Bannu facility told RFE/RL that the initial attackers arrived "in two or three vehicles."

"Immediately after getting to the main gate of the jail, they ordered us to get out of their way," the guard, Mer Laiq Khan, said. "I fired at them, but they had heavy weapons. They responded with hand grenades. Then they fired a rocket launcher and other armed men entered from another side of the jail building using heavy weapons. They surrounded the whole prison."

The information minister of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Province, Mia Iftikhar Hussain, called it "a huge incident" and said investigators were already looking into the possibility that officials had abetted the attackers.

"We are looking into the matter and investigating whether government officials were involved, why the security official on duty could not handle the attackers, or why additional forces could not reach there on time," Hussain told Radio Mashaal. "These are all the questions that will take time to answer.”

He said 384 prisoners had escaped in all, adding that "the attackers were too many in number."

Authorities have since announced that seven of the escapees were recaptured.

Hussain said that "20 of them [had been] sentenced to death, and the man who was involved in attack on Pervez Musharraf has also escaped."

Taliban spokesman Asim Mehsood told RFE/RL that his group was responsible for the attack. He said some 150 "suicide bombers" had participated.

The town of Bannu has seen several attacks in recent years, usually bombings.
With reporting by Reuters

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