Taliban militants on Sunday attacked the Central Jail in Bannu and freed several of their comrades, including Adnan Rashid, a convict on death row who had plotted to kill General Pervez Musharraf. Tahir Ali reports
Militants from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan have freed hundreds of their comrades from a prison in central Bannu in Khyber Pakthunkhwa Province. Twenty two high-profile convicts, who had been awarded the death penalty by Pakistani courts, are among the freed prisoners.
In the wee hours of Sunday, nearly 150 armed militants riding vehicles armed with guns and rocke- propelled grenades attacked the prison in Bannu.
The police barely had any time to retaliate and the Taliban militants managed to free the prisoners.
Bannu city, which serves as a gateway to North Waziristan, has been under the influence of TTP. Suicide bombings and other attacks over security forces and military installations are common in this particular area.
Asimullah Mehsud, TTP spokesperson, told rediff.com, "Nearly 150 Taliban men took part in this activity. We have freed more than 800 prisoners. It was the best way to free our men. Holding talks with the government doesn't give us a solution to releasing our brothers languishing in prisons."
Reacting to the attack, Mir Sahib Jan, a police official, said, "Dozens of militants attacked the jail in the early hours of the morning. Over 300 prisoners have escaped. There was intense gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades were also used."
Adnan Rashid, a former member of the Pakistan Air Force who was charged for complicity in an attack on former president Pervez Musharraf, was one of the prisoners freed by the Taliban.
Incidentally, Adnan Rashid has been lodged in various jails in Pakistan. In September 2011, he and his comrade Niaz Khan were shifted from Haripur Central jail to Peshawar prison. The transfer was against their wishes and both prisoners went on a hunger strike in protest.
Adnan Rashid and Niaz Khan had both been charged for orchestrating a suicide attack on Musharraf. The Supreme Court had dismissed their appeals against court martial.
The two high-profile prisoners were shifted forcibly because Adnan and Niaz allegedly put an end to the corrupt practices of the authorities of Haripur Jail Authorities, who were selling drugs in prison.
One of them also worked as the prayer leader in Haripur Jail and had a strong influence over the prisoners. Last year, Adnan and Niaz ensured that Eid was celebrated on two different days in Haripur Jail, as per the custom in Khyber Pakthunkhwa Province, where majority of the rigid clerics do not celebrate Eid with the government.
Finally, Adnan and Niaz were secretly shifted to Peshawar Central jail in the night. They were allegedly tortured by the jail authorities but they refused to end their hunger strike. They were then shifted to two separate jails; Adnan Rashid was lodged in the Bannu Jail while Niaz Mahmud was taken to the Mansehra District Jail.
Adnan Rashid has been freed by Taliban militants but Niaz Mahmud is still lodged behind bars.
Attacks on prisons by militants are becoming a common modus operandi of the Taliban. While Afghanistan has witnessed a number of such incidents, this is biggest incident of its kind in Pakistan.
In June 2008, nearly 900 inmates including 400 Taliban fighters were freed from the Kandahar Jail, when dozens of militants on motorbikes and two suicide bombers in an explosives-laden tanker attacked it.
In April 2011, the Afghan Taliban dug a lengthy tunnel under the main jail in Kandahar and whisked out more than 475 prisoners, most of whom were Taliban fighters.