Authorities imposed a curfew in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, following an overnight attack on the 100-year-old central prison there, which housed more than 500 prisoners. All roads leading to neighboring restive tribal regions of North and South Waziristan were blocked off and a search operation has been launched, officials said, requesting they not be named.
“The attackers have melted away in the population,” one official acknolwledged.
More than 100 militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy arms rode in on motorbikes and vehicles and then blasted the prison walls and broke open locks on cells, freeing 243 prisoners including 30 militants, the security official said.
“They used megaphones to call names of their comrades in the lock-ups and then broke up their cells using explosives devices,” the official said.
Thirteen people were killed in the attack that began at around 11 p.m. and continued for three hours, the official said.
“There are explosives littered around the compound,” the official said.
Four policemen and five civilians were among the dead. Four prisoners who belonged to the minority Shia sect and had been charged in targeted killings were also identified and killed by militants, the official said. Another 13 people were wounded in the attack.
The attack was the second major prison raid in two years. In April last year, militants stormed a prison in neighbouring Bannu district, freeing nearly 400 prisoners.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for Monday night’s attack, but suspicion immediately fell on Adnan Rashid, a former Pakistani Air Force official who had participated in an assassination attempt on Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the former president. Mr. Rashid, who was among the escapees from the Bannu prison break, has since taken shelter in North Waziristan. He released a video early this year, announcing the formation of a special group to help rescue militants holed up in jails across the country.
But the senior security official said that a banned sectarian militant outfit, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Khitab group, was behind the assault.
He said that intelligence had been passed on to the district administration, security forces and jail authorities of an imminent attack and that a security conference had been held to assess the prison’s security.
“The attack was so sudden and big. Probably, no one suspected it was around the corner. No security measures could be put in place to preempt it,” the official said.
“This is a debacle of the highest order,” commented a senior government official. “We had timely intelligence and senior district administration and security officials had visited the central prison to check security. Still this debacle?”