Prison Raid Frees Dozens Of Militants In Pakistan

Jul 30, 2013

The Taliban is claiming responsibility for a sophisticated attack on a prison in Pakistan that freed more than 200 inmates, many of them described as dangerous terrorists.

A few of the inmates were recaptured and authorities are searching for the others.

Many of the attackers were dressed as Pakistani police officers and were riding motorcycles decorated with Taliban flags.

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I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. In Pakistan, the search is on for more than 200 inmates, many of them called dangerous terrorists, on the loose after that dramatic Taliban attack on a prison earlier today. It reportedly started with a huge explosion that rattled every house in the neighborhood, then the heavily-armed attackers opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, killing more than a dozen people, including six guards.

The BBC's Haroon Rashid joins us from Islamabad. Haroon, were the attackers claiming to be Taliban?

HAROON RASHID: Yes, the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility, and they've said that around 100 of their men armed with sophisticated weapons, riding vehicles, seven or eight, they went into Dera Khan last night around midnight and carried out this daring attack. They claim that around 200 of their colleagues have been released from the jail during this attack. But they've not given out any identities of these prisoners that managed to escape. But I mean officials in Dera Ismail Khan, the southern town of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, are telling us that around 30 of these escaped prisoners are hardcore militants.

YOUNG: Well, and people would be forgiven for thinking didn't just happen because it did last week in Iraq, when prisoners were freed from a prison there and a year ago in Pakistan when some 400 inmates were freed from a prison. And we understand that authorities in this area had some intelligence that an attack was going to happen. So is the thinking that they weren't prepared or that they couldn't prepare for how big the assault was?

RASHID: Yes, I think it seems that the militants the world over have this big craze now for going into jailbreaks and getting their colleagues released, because that reinforces their cadres a bit more, I mean if they can get back their 100 men back. It is a huge thing. As far as preparedness is concerned, after the last jailbreak, authorities did recommend a couple of measures, including a small step like putting up CCTV cameras, which couldn't be done so far. So it shows that the authorities did beef up as far as men are concerned.

They put on more policemen to guard these prisons. But I mean people are asking these questions, why there was no proper plan to protect this huge prison, which is - houses some of the most dangerous criminals in the country. And also, an inquiry has been ordered by the government, but there were reports that the authorities had some prior intelligence that militants were planning to carry out these attacks, so why couldn't they prevent it?

YOUNG: Did you - did I hear you say that they want these people back in their cadres, they want them back in their ranks?

RASHID: I think so because you see in Pakistan, whenever they have tried to negotiate with the government, the list of demands that they put before for starting these negotiations, the top of the list is their demand to release their men in jails. They are facing some sort of shortage. They want to, I think, replenish these attacks.

YOUNG: Well, and they're also doing it because obviously they can. What does this say about the new government in Pakistan? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif taking office in June, the roiling debate as to whether or not Pakistan is supporting U.S. requests that it fight the Taliban. What does it say?

RASHID: It's a huge embarrassment, I think, for the Nawaz Sharif government, and we haven't seen any actual practical steps on the ground to suggest that this issue is being taken very seriously by the new government.

YOUNG: The BBC's Haroon Rashid in Islamabad after this morning's dramatic prison break - 200 inmates freed by the Taliban in the northwest part of the country. Haroon, thank you.

RASHID: You're welcome.

YOUNG: OK. Still to come, back in the U.S. with a mom keeping track of her toddler's progress with spreadsheets. Also, whatever happened to Storm Flossie? That and more when we come back. HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.