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30 Jul, 2013 07:50

Prison break: Taliban gunmen free 300 inmates from Pakistan jail

Heavily armed Taliban fighters freed some 300 inmates from a large prison in Pakistan in a massive midnight attack.
Prison break: Taliban gunmen free 300 inmates from Pakistan jail

The facility in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, some 320 km west of Lahore, holds around 5,000 prisoners. Police said up to 40 gunmen wearing police uniforms launched a surprise attack on the prison on Monday night. The siege started with explosions, which cut power to the facility and breached its outer wall, said district police chief Sohail Khalid.

An injured Pakistani policeman lies on a bed at a hospital following an overnight armed Taliban militant attack on the Central Prison in Dera Ismail Khan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on July 30, 2013. (AFP Photo)

The attackers, armed with rocket launchers and machine guns, fought their way inside the compund. Other gunmen occupied a nearby house and hospital, taking residents hostage and firing at security forces responding to the incident. Smaller groups of attackers were scattered throughout the streets leading to the prison.

The fighting continued into the early hours of the morning as Pakistani police called for military reinforcements. Before backup security forces managed to arrive, dozens of prisoners escaped the facility.

No immediate casualty reports were available.

The Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, said around 300 of their fellow fighters were freed from the jail during the attack. It said some 100 people including seven suicide bombers took part in the raid.

A provincial security official told Reuters that provincial authorities were tipped off about the impending jailbreak two week ago. The warning signals came from phone intercepts and interrogations of captured Taliban fighters.

The overnight prison escape follows last week’s high profile attack on the headquarters of the Pakistani military intelligence service in the southern town of Sukkur.

Taliban militants conducted a successful attack on a prison in the northern town of Bannu last year, when 400 fighters were freed.

Other countries in the region are also facing jailbreaks orchestrated by local militant groups fighting to free their fellow combatants. More than 1,100 people escaped from Koyfiya prison in Libya’s Benghazi last week after a militant attack, while Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib saw over 500 convicts, including Al-Qaeda affiliates, break out last Monday following a major attack on the facility.