Taliban storms Pakistani jail, frees 390 prisoners

Pakistani soldiers surround jail

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistani Taliban militants stormed a prison in northwest Pakistan early Sunday and freed 390 prisoners, including 20 militants, local officials said.

The attack occurred about 2:30 a.m. at a prison in Bannu, a town considered the gateway to North Waziristan, a tribal region along the Afghan border that has long been a stronghold for Taliban insurgents and several other militant groups. Local police officials said as many as 200 Taliban militants drove up in pickups, lobbing hand grenades to break through the jail’s main gate.

Once inside, a two-hour firefight broke out between the attackers and roughly 30 jail guards. The militants began freeing prisoners after the guards ran out of ammunition, officials said. No one was seriously injured or killed in the attack.

One of the prisoners freed was Adnan Rashid, on death row for an assassination attempt on former Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf when he was president, police said.

Officials said the jail's 944 prisoners, including some militant commanders, recently had been moved to the Bannu jail after authorities received intelligence that Taliban militants might be planning major raids on detention centers holding insurgents.

In recent years, Pakistan has sent more than 140,000 troops to battle the Pakistani Taliban across much of the tribal region along the Afghan border. The army has retaken large stretches of territory once held by the Pakistani Taliban, but the insurgent group still clings to pockets of resistance throughout the tribal belt and continues to carry out periodic attacks on a variety of targets, including military checkpoints, mosques and markets.

Like the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban is made up of factions united by the goal of toppling the current government and imposing Sharia, or Islamic law. It maintains links with Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, and other Pakistani militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Authorities in Islamabad have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. 

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-- Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez

Staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar.

Photo: Pakistani soldiers and other security officials surround a central jail in Bannu after the Taliban attack Sunday. Credit: Ijaz Muhammad / Associated Press

 
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