[Photo: Central Jail in Dera Ismail Khan, The News]
By Zahir Shah Sherazi
PESHAWAR, (Dawn): Pakistani Taliban militants in police uniform attacked the Central Jail in Dera Ismail Khan late on Monday and managed to free around 247 inmates, as more than 25 explosions were heard and at least 11 people were killed and nine others wounded.
The dead included five policemen, four inmates and two private security guards.
Security officials said that at least 247 prisoners were missing after the incident and a search for the fugitives continued who were suspected to be taken away by the attackers.
Heavily armed militants belonging to the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the prison from different sides and managed to make their way in from the Vegetable Market side near Government Girls Degree College D I Khan.
Security and law enforcement agencies with the help of Pakistan Army cordoned off the prison and conducted a six-hour long operation before finally taking back control of the prison.
Moreover, a curfew was imposed in the city as a search operation continued to apprehend the escaped fugitives.
ISPR has confirmed that they dispatched the Army units which have cordoned of the prison and are participating in the ongoing operation alongside other paramilitary forces.
Meanwhile, new TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has accepted responsibility for the attack. Speaking to Dawn.com, he said that around 100 militants took part in the attack including a number of suicide bombers among them.
He said the TTP has achieved their targets and their operation was successful.
The prison houses Taliban and militants from banned sectarian groups. According to the jail authorities, there are at least 5000 prisoners in the Central Jail Dera Ismail Khan which is near the bordering town of Tank adjacent to volatile South Waziristan Agency, the headquarter of the TTP and al Qaeda militants.
Intelligence reports suggest that there are at least 45 high profile militants in the jail but there is no official confirmation about the exact number.
The gunmen launched their attack with a series of heavy explosions before firing rocket propelled grenades and machine guns, district police chief Sohail Khalid said.
The attack began with a huge explosion and several smaller blasts before security forces engaged the attackers. An intelligence official said the militants are shouting ”God is great” and ”Long live the Taliban.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.
The local resident, Sharafat Khan, said the blast was so strong that it rattled neighborhood houses. He said he was hearing continuous gunfire.
Inspector General Jails in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Khalid Abbas told Dawn.com the militants scaled over the boundary wall after exploding it and launched the attack.
He said that still the gun battle is ongoing as the forces inside are fighting back but there is no confirmation about the casualties. He said that they are facing problems in operation due to electricity breakdown.
Abbas admitted that the jail authorities had received a threatening letter regarding the attack, adding that the D I Khan prison is one of the safest in KP but these jails are only built to house criminals and are not deigned to keep terrorists and militants.
Meanwhile, the deputy commissioner D I Khan has informed media representatives that a curfew has been imposed in the city. He also said that six prisoners were arrested for attempting to escape in the wake of the prison attack.
This not the first instance when militants have attempted to free their captive associates in Pakistan. Nearly 400 prisoners including militants had escaped on April 15, 2012 from Bannu Jail after an attack by insurgents armed with guns, grenades and rockets.
More than 150 heavily-armed militants had stormed the central prison outside the restive northwestern town of Bannu bordering the lawless tribal regions. TTP commander Adnan Rashid, who was serving a jail term for attacking former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf, was among the freed detainees.
Rashid recently gained attention by writing a letter to teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year in an attempt to kill her. Rashid said he wished the attack hadn’t happened, but told Malala that she was targeted for speaking ill of the Taliban.