Some 384 prisoners including militants escaped early Sunday from a jail in north-western Pakistan after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets, said officials.
More than 150 heavily-armed Islamist militants stormed the central prison outside the restive north-western town of Bannu bordering the lawless tribal regions where Taliban and al-Qaeda linked militants are known to operate.
Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack. “We attacked the Bannu prison and got our special members freed,” Ehsan told AFP.
“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,” he said.
The attack started at around 1:00 a.m. (2000 GMT Saturday) and continued for two hours, with militants in cars and pick-up trucks shooting and lobbing grenades to force their way into the prison, a security official told AFP.
“Some 384 prisoners, including some hardcore militants, have escaped during the attack,” the official said, asking not to be named.
“Preliminary information suggests that there were some 944 prisoners in the jail according to the tally late Saturday,” he said.
Information Minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP 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.
A large number of militants had recently been moved to the jail from neighbouring Kohat and Lakki Marwat prisons, which are being converted into centres to rehabilitate former militants, said the security official.
Police confirmed the attack but did not give any figures for the escapees, saying they were still investigating.
Senior Bannu police official Iftikhar Khan told AFP that at least three police officials were wounded in the attack.
The attackers outnumbered the security forces at the prison and militants fled before reinforcements reached the jail, he said.
Shafiq Ahmed, another police official said that security forces had imposed a cordon and a search operation was launched in the area.