Taliban fighters have attacked a major prison in Pakistan and have freed several militants. Reports say the attack was launched just before midnight Monday at the Central Jail in Dera Ismail Khan. The prison is approximately 200 miles west of Lahore, which borders the volatile South Waziristan tribal area.
According to media reports, Taliban fighters continued to battle Pakistani security forces early Tuesday. Explosions and gun fire could be heard in the area. The extent of the casualties could not be verified. Earlier reports said at least five people were killed, including two policemen.
Authorities say Taliban fighters belonging to the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were involved in the attack. They reportedly wore police uniforms to disguise themselves.
Authorities told local media that a curfew has been imposed by security forces in order to protect civilians. Army units were also dispatched to help with the ongoing battles.
There are conflicting reports as to how many inmates escaped. Initial reports said at least 40 prisoners were freed and escaped. A TTP spokesman, who claimed responsibility for the attack, said 250 prisoners had been freed.
Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for TTP, told local reporters that the TTP had achieved its goals and its operation was successful.
“Major part of our operation is over and we succeeded in freeing our 250 prisoners from the jail. This was our aim but our suicide bombers are still present inside the jail and offering tough resistance to the military forces and police to enter the prison,” he said.
Mushtaq Jadoon, the town’s civil commissioner, told reporters that dozens of prisoners had escaped.
According to official reports, the prison holds Taliban and other militants from banned sectarian groups. Authorities told the media there are at least 5000 prisoners in the Central Jail Dera Ismail Khan.
Witnesses said the attackers set off a huge explosion and several smaller blasts before security forces intervened. An intelligence official said the militants were shouting ‘Long live the Taliban.”
Sharafat Khan, a local resident, said the initial blast was so strong that it rattled neighborhood houses.
Khalid Abbas, provincial prisons chief, told reporters that there were up to 40 gunmen disguised in police uniforms who launched the attack. They first destroyed a power line and detonated heavy explosions to break the outer walls of the jail.
“It’s completely dark in there. We don’t know what’s going on but there is fighting,” he said.
Taliban fighters have launched similar prison attacks in the past to free militants. In April 2012, they freed nearly 400 prisoners from a central jail in the restive town of Bannu which borders tribal regions. According to reports, TTP commander Adnan Rashid was among the militants who escaped in this attack. Adnan Rashid, along with other militants, was involved in an assassination attempt on former president Pervez Musharraf.
Recently Rashid gained notoriety for writing a letter to Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban. In the letter he said he wished the attack had not happened to her. However, he said she was targeted for criticizing the militant group.
By Perviz Walji