ISLAMABAD — In an operation carried out with military-like precision, Taliban fighters disguised as police and armed with bombs broke 250 prisoners out of a Pakistan jail today with the help of what appeared to be insider informants.
The attack in the city of Dera Ismail Khan showed the ability of the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban to strike at the heart of Pakistan’s heavily guarded prison system and walk away with dozens of senior Taliban fighters and commanders.
The overnight assault on the Central Prison took place despite reports that regional officials had received intelligence days, if not weeks, ago suggesting such an attack was imminent.
Officials blamed a combination of negligence and lack of communication among Pakistan’s many security agencies, but some suggested there may have been a degree of insider help.
Just hours before the attack, army and police units had met at the jail to discuss security, one source said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“It is very difficult to attack such a place without proper information or contacts,” said the police source, adding that some prisoners were suspected to have been in touch with the Taliban by mobile phones provided by sympathetic wardens.
“They are corrupt, lazy and unprofessional. And the militants may have supporters in the city.”
Another senior official in the provincial capital of Peshawar said only about 70 of the 200 prison guards who were meant to be on duty were present that night.
“Most policemen ran for their lives once the attack started, leaving their weapons behind,” the official told Reuters. “They could have easily killed some of the attackers but they even gave up their own guns, providing the attackers with more ammo.”
The attack came a year after a similar mass jailbreak in the northern town of Bannu which Taliban militants said was carried out with inside help from prison guards. An inquiry later found there were far fewer guards on duty than there should have been.
A senior Taliban official told Reuters separately the latest attack was masterminded by Adnan Rashid, a Taliban commander who was himself freed in last year’s prison break. (Reuters)