PESHAWAR: Dozens of heavily armed Taliban fighters freed nearly 250 prisoners, including hardcore militants, during a sophisticated overnight attack on a Pakistani jail that killed 13 people, officials said on Tuesday.
Armed with guns, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and bombs, the Taliban bombarded the prison in the town of Dera Ismail Khan before escaping with scores of inmates after a three-hour shootout.
The attack by well-trained gunmen, disguised in police uniforms, will heighten concerns about the ability of the Taliban to operate with impunity in parts of the nuclear-armed state.
It took place just hours before the country began electing a new head of state to replace outgoing President Asif Ali Zardari, who is ending a five-year term.
Zardari’s party lost general elections in May and has boycotted Tuesday’s presidential vote, leading to the certain victory of Mamnoon Hussain, a close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
At least 248 prisoners escaped, of whom six were later re-arrested, senior government official Mushtaq Jadoon told ARY television, describing about 30 of them as “hardcore militants”.
The Central Prison in Dera Ismail Khan can hold up to 5,000 inmates and around 300 were being held in connection with attacks on security forces and sectarian killings.
But it was not clear how many were present during the assault, which began late Monday and ended early Tuesday.
The city in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is close to Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents are most active.
The prison break came after more than 1,000 inmates, mostly common criminals, escaped from a Libyan jail in the city of Benghazi during a riot on Saturday.
And last week, militants attacked two prisons in Iraq, freeing at least 500 inmates in bomb, mortar and gun assaults that killed more than 40 people north and west of the capital Baghdad.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has led a domestic insurgency since 2007 killing thousands of people, claimed responsibility.
“Some 150 Taliban, including 60 suicide bombers, attacked the Central Prison and managed to free about 300 prisoners,” Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said.