Taleban jailbreak sets 400 militants free

Dozens of Islamist militants stormed a prison in Pakistan in the early hours yesterday and freed nearly 400 inmates, including one under sentence of death for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan’s Taleban, which is close to al-Qaeda, said it was behind the assault by militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.

A police official said most of the escapees from the jail in the north-western town of Bannu were militants.

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“I don’t remember the exact time, but it must have been way past midnight. There were huge explosions. Plaster from the ceilings fell on us,” prisoner Malik Nazeef, speaking by mobile phone, said from the jail in the town of Bannu,

“There was gunfire. We didn’t know what was happening.”

Once inside the building, the attackers headed straight to the area of the prison where the condemned were being kept, he said. They fought with guards for around two hours, setting part of the prison on fire before freeing 380 inmates.

“We have freed hundreds of our comrades in Bannu in this attack. Several of our people have reached their destinations, others are on their way,” a Taleban spokesman said.

The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the black, metal gates of the prison, blowing them open.

Debris was strewn on the ground, including locks that were shot off doors. Walls were pockmarked with bullet holes.

An assault of this scale is likely to generate fresh questions over Pakistan’s progress in fighting militancy.

The prison break could deal a psychological blow to security forces following repeated government assertions that security crackdowns have weakened militant groups.

Pakistan is seen as critical to US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan yet Pakistan faces daunting security problems.