Militants attack prison in northwest Pakistan
By ISHTIAQ MAHSUD
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) -- Taliban militants disguised as police and armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives attacked a prison in northwest Pakistan holding 40 "high profile" inmates Monday night in an apparent attempt to free their colleagues, officials said.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying 150 militants took part and around 300 prisoners were freed.
The attack in the town of Dera Ismail Khan began around midnight with a huge explosion, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters. A local resident, Sharafat Khan, said the blast was so loud "it rattled every house in the neighborhood."
The militants then set off a series of smaller explosions to destroy the prison's boundary wall, said the intelligence officials. At least eight attackers wearing police uniforms stormed inside the prison once the walls fell. Security forces engaged the attackers, who were chanting "God is great" and "Long live the Taliban."
The militants also fired rocket-propelled grenades and lobbed hand grenades during the attack, said the deputy commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan, Khan Mushtaq Jadoon.
"Right now some of the attackers are inside the jail and others have occupied two buildings outside," said Jadoon. "We are going to launch a major operation soon. The city has been sealed. The army is leading the operation."
Khalid Abbas, head of the prison department in surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said the jail held 40 "high profile" prisoners.
"We are not sure if any of them escaped," Abbas said.
The militants are reportedly calling out specific prisoners by name using a microphone and amplifier, said Jadoon. Authorities caught six prisoners trying to flee the city by car, he said.
Officials received a letter threatening an attack on the prison, but they didn't expect it so soon, said Abbas. Army troops encircled the prison and exchanged fire with the attackers, he said, but security forces were having trouble distinguishing the militants in the dark because of their police uniforms.
One prison official, Gul Mohammad, said he had just walked out of the prison at the end of his shift when two militants armed with AK-47s shot him. There are other officials who have been wounded, he said from a hospital bed, although the casualty toll was unclear.
Dera Ismail Khan is located on the edge of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
In April 2012, Taliban militants armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades battled their way into a prison in the city of Bannu in northwest Pakistan, freeing close to 400 prisoners, including at least 20 described by police as "very dangerous" insurgents.
One of the militants freed in that attack, Adnan Rasheed, recently gained attention by writing a letter to teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year in an attempt to kill her. Rasheed said he wished the attack hadn't happened, but told Malala that she was targeted for speaking ill of the Taliban.
Associated Press writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan.
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