The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a nighttime assault on a prison in northwestern Pakistan, freeing nearly 400 inmates, including “hardcore militants.”
A Taliban force estimated at 150 fighters launched the attack on the prison in the district of Bannu at 1:00 a.m. local time and clashed with prison personnel for nearly two hours, according to AFP. The heavily armed Taliban fighters blew open the front gate and lobbed grenades and fired on prison guards during the attack. Other Taliban fighters blocked off the surrounding roads to prevent Pakistani reinforcements from reaching the prison.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, claimed credit for the assault and said the group would provide more details on those who were freed.
“We attacked the Bannu prison and got our special members freed,” Ihsan told AFP. “In a couple of days when all of them have reached their designated places we will issue details about them. At the moment I cannot give you exact numbers.”
Twenty-nine inmates have since surrendered to security forces and another 11 have been recaptured.
One of the terrorists who escaped is Adnan Rasheed, who was involved in the Dec. 14, 2003 assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf. Rasheed was a member of the Pakistani Air Force and has been sentenced to death for his role in the the assassination attempt.
Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered the two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi; Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor, the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen; Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami; and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Farooqi served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. Farooqi also served as the group’s representative to al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front. He is thought to have been involved in the Indian airliner hijacking that led to the release of both Maulana Masood Azhar, the future leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Sheikh Omar Saeed, a senior al Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed operative involved in the death of US journalist Daniel Pearl. Farooqi was killed by Pakistani security forces on Sept. 26, 2004.
While the Taliban have not named the commander who led last night’s assault against the prison in Bannu, Asmatullah Shaheen is likely to have commanded the forces. Shaheen, who is on the Pakistani government’s list of the 20-most-wanted Taliban commanders in South Waziristan, operates in the area and executed a similar attack four months ago. On Dec. 23, he led a successful assault against a Pakistani Frontier Corps fort in Tank that resulted in the death of one soldier and the capture of 15 more.
Given that Adnan Rasheed was freed in the prison break, a Taliban faction called the Amjad Farooqi Group may also have been involved. The Amjad Farooqi Group took credit for one of the most brazen attacks in Pakistan over the last several years. On Oct. 10, 2009, the Amjad Farooqi Group killed six Pakistani Army personnel, including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel, in an assault on Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.