PESHAWAR/BANNU: Embarrassed by the biggest jailbreak in the country’s history, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government removed on Monday four senior officials and ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident as more details emerged about the audacity of the attacking militants and utter failure of police to respond.
“We were shaken out of deep slumber by a volley of shots and loud explosions. We were scared and we started reciting kalma,” Omar Nawaz, a former local nazim and an inmate who chose to return to the prison, told Dawn.
“There was a lot of firing. Nobody knew what was happening. Then we saw the Taliban breaking open doors of the cell and ordering us to leave,” he said. “Leave or your corps will be taken out,” he quoted one of the militants as saying. “We had no choice,” Omar said.
“They told us ‘you are free, go home’,” said Rasul Khan, another prisoner who decided to return and surrender to the authorities. “They were raising slogans of Allah-o-Akbar,” he said.
The shooting, bombing and breaking of doors of the cell and barracks continued for over two hours, eyewitnesses said. Police was nowhere to be seen.
This is the first-hand account of some of the prisoners who had fled the Bannu Central Prison during the Saturday midnight attack by more than 100 armed militants.
Mohammad Azam Khan, provincial Secretary of Home and Tribal Affairs, put the number of escaped prisoners at 384.
According to last reports, 88 of them have since returned, most of them voluntarily. A few others were arrested in different areas.
Janatullah, another prisoner, said the attackers who spoke Urdu and Pashto were asking about cells and barracks housing Taliban and condemned prisoners.
This lends some credence to claims by the authorities that the militants had come to free Adnan Rasheed, a junior technician of the PAF, sentenced to death for his involvement in a botched attack on former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf in Jhanda Chichi in December 2003.
Another inmate said the militants had ordered them to leave the prison and said that “all roads have been cleared”.
This substantiates earlier reports that the militants had set up posts on roads leading to the prison to prevent police and other law-enforcement personnel from reaching there.
According to latest reports, of the 384 escaped inmates, 145 were under-trial, 94 were charged with murder and 30 in narcotics cases and 21 sentenced to death.
The KP government removed Bannu Division’s Commissioner Abdullah Mehsud, Inspector General (Prisons) Arshad Majeed Mohmand, Deputy Inspector General (Bannu Range) Muhammad Iftikhar Khan and Deputy Superintendent (Bannu Jail) Muhammad Zahid from their posts and made them officers on special duty.
A five-member committee set up on the order of Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti has been asked to complete its inquiry in 15 days.
Accompanied by Home Secretary Azam Khan, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said at a press conference that the inquiry committee would look into all aspects of the incident. It will unearth facts leading to the jailbreak, fix responsibility and ascertain whether any threat was conveyed in advance. He said the committee would try to find out if the jailbreak was in anyway linked to Saturday’s multiple coordinated attacks in Afghanistan.
“We have been facing acts of terrorism for the past few years, but such type of negligence has never happened,” Mian Iftikhar said.
“Over 100 militants brazenly attacked the jail and safely returned to their areas along with 384 prisoners,” he said, adding that there was a major intelligence failure.
The home secretary said he had requested the federal government to allow installation of jammers in jails after receiving reports that prisoners were using cellphones, but the centre did not issue an NOC for the purpose.
He said the militants involved in high-profile cases had been kept in KP’s jails which needed sensitive equipment and security system.
Answering a question, he said the attackers could not reach the barracks of convicted prisoners or those being tried under anti-terrorism laws.
The inquiry committee will look into the home department’s letter dated Sept 15, 2011, calling for a joint security review of prisons by the district police and jail administration.