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Militants storm Pakistani prison, free 248 prisoners

July 30, 2013|By Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez
  • A Pakistani journalist records video of the Dera Ismail Khan central jail after it was attacked by Taliban militants.
A Pakistani journalist records video of the Dera Ismail Khan central jail… (Saood Rehman / European…)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Dozens of Pakistani Taliban insurgents stormed a prison in northwest Pakistan early Tuesday and freed 248 prisoners, including 30 high-profile militants, in an attack that renewed questions about the country’s ability to prevent terrorists from escaping its prisons.

Authorities said as many as 150 militants armed with rocket launchers and automatic rifles attacked the prison in Dera Ismail Khan, a city situated on the edge of Pakistan’s volatile tribal region along the Afghan border. Many of the attackers were clad in police uniforms.

The militants, some in vehicles and others on motorcycle, fired rockets to breach the main gate, local police said. Khalid Abbas, a top prison official, said a pitched firefight between police at the prison and the militants lasted for at least three hours. Several of the prisoners who escaped were foreign militants, Abbas said.

Four security guards, four civilians and six prisoners were killed in the attack, and at least 16 other people were injured, officials said. One of the injured prisoners said electricity to the prison was shut off just before the attack. The prison houses more than 3,000 inmates.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said his group claimed responsibility for the assault. He said at least seven of the attackers donned explosives-filled suicide vests. A Pakistani security official said the attack occurred even though intelligence agencies had intercepted messages exchanged between militants about a potential attack on the prison, and had shared that information with local authorities.

The attack on the Dera Ismail Khan prison mirrors an assault that Pakistani Taliban militants carried out on a jail in the northwest town of Bannu in April 2012. In that attack, 400 prisoners escaped, including several high profile militants.

In his first few weeks in office, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has struggled to rein in militant groups that have plagued the South Asian nation with terrorist attacks for years. Sharif has raised the prospect of talks with militants, including the Pakistani Taliban, but that has done little to stem the tide of violence. More than 150 people have been killed in militant attacks since Sharif took office in early June.

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Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, and staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad.

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