Jailbreak Frees Hundreds

Jailbreak Frees Hundreds

Jailbreak Frees Hundreds

Taliban militants have freed 248 prisoners in an assault on a prison in north-west Pakistan, officials say.

Militants armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and bombs blasted down the walls of the jail in the town of Dera Ismail Khan and streamed inside, reports said.

A gun battle lasting several hours went on into the early hours of Tuesday. At least 13 died, including six police.

Correspondents say it is a huge embarrassment for authorities.

The attack was similar to an assault on a prison in nearby Bannu in April last year, in which almost 400 prisoners were freed.

The Taliban assault comes on the day parliament is electing a new president. We will never know if the timing was deliberate, but it has hugely embarrassed the government, and once again highlighted the ability of the militants to strike at will.

Suggestions the authorities had advance warning of the attack, but did not act on it, only make matters worse.

No high-profile Taliban members were being held at the Dera prison, but at least 30 militants freed in the assault are described by the authorities as "hardened" Taliban fighters. The attack rekindles memories of a 2012 jailbreak in the nearby city of Bannu in which about 400 prisoners escaped, including Adnan Rashid, a radicalised former member of the military who recently wrote an open letter to child activist Malala Yousafzai explaining why she was attacked by the Taliban.

The Dera jail attack comes a month after the police said they had arrested a group of militants who were planning to launch a similar attack on Karachi Central Jail. This is indicative of an emerging Taliban strategy to break jails instead of negotiating the release of their prisoners by taking hostages, which they have done in the past.

Reports also suggest intelligence had warned of an impending attempt on the jail two weeks ago.

This latest assault demonstrates the weakness of the Pakistani state, says the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani in Karachi.

The state appears not to have the capacity, and some would say the will, to rein in hardened militants, he says.

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