BANNU: In what is being described as the biggest jail-break in the country’s history, over 100 militants stormed the central prison here after Saturday midnight and freed 384 prisoners, among them a man sentenced to death for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.
According to an official, 100 to 150 militants arrived on pick-ups at about 1.30am and attacked the prison housing over 900 inmates after blowing up the main gates with rocket-propelled grenades.
They broke open locks of cells, including those housing hardened criminals and condemned prisoners and blasted metal doors, the official said.
“The attackers appeared to be in control of the prison for more than two hours. The guards offered little or no resistance after the militants asked them to step aside.”
The brazen attack and its scale showed that no place in the province is adequately protected or safe.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Akbar Khan Hoti, who visited the jail along with Home Secretary Azam Khan, called it a security lapse. “We are inquiring into the incident,” he told reporters.
He quoted the prison guards as saying that the attackers had accurate information about cells in which militants had been kept.
The police official said there were 21 condemned prisoners in the jail but the attackers appeared to be interested mainly in freeing the man who was on death row for the high-profile assassination attempt.
The militants had blocked all roads leading to the prison by erecting barricades and deploying pickets to keep law-enforcement personnel away, a security official said.
Police arrived at the place only when the militants had escaped after freeing the prisoners, he said.
Four guards injured in the attack were admitted to a local hospital, he said.
It was not clear how many of the escaped prisoners were militants but an official said one of them was Adnan Rashid, sentenced to death for the attempt on the life of Gen (retd) Musharraf. He was among six air force personnel who were convicted by a field general court martial in October 2005. He was a junior technician in PAF, Quetta.
The Lahore High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case saying the Constitution did not permit them to look into a conviction by a military court. The official said most of the prisoners did not join the fleeing inmates and 26 of them voluntarily returned to the jail.
Another 11 fleeing prisoners were arrested, seven of them during a search operation in Karak. A search was under way for the other escaped inmates.“It is not clear how the militants managed to come in such a large number without being detected and leave without being intercepted. A high-level inquiry is being ordered,” the security official said.“There has been an intelligence failure and a security failure,” he said.
“There was no pre-emption and there was no response while shooting and bombing continued for more than two hours inside the prison. It seems as though there was no real effort to stop the militants or resist them”, the official said.
The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We have released our men without losing a single man,” TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said. Bannu adjoins North Waziristan and an official said the fleeing militants might be heading to the tribal agency.
The Supreme Court had dismissed Adnan’s appeal against his conviction in March last year and his review plea is pending.
“It appears that the attack was aimed at freeing Adnan who had been convicted and sentenced a long time ago. Convictions of hardened militants are too few and implementation of their sentences too late,” an analyst said.
Our Correspondent in Karak adds: A terrorist of Afghan origin was among seven of the escaped prisoners arrested by police at a checkpoint on Terri bypass while they were going towards the border area after having sneaked into Karak from Bannu.
District police chief Sajjad Khan said at a press conference that Mohammad Zarif of Khost in Afghanistan, Manzoor Ali of Parachinar, Mohammad Nabi of Hangu, Hizar Hayat of Kohat and Eid Mohammad, Mohammad Sharif and Khalilur Rehman of Sadda had been apprehended.
He said Zarif was a terrorist who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in a murder case. The other arrested prisoners were involved in murder cases, he said.