Taliban Attack Frees At Least 175 From Pakistani Prison

NPR icon by Bill Chappell
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Scores of prisoners were freed from a prison in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, after Taliban militants armed with explosives and automatic weapons reportedly stormed the facility. At least nine people, including five guards, died in gun battles and other violence at the prison, according to multiple news outlets.

The attack was carried out "with military-like precision" and may have been aided by informants in the prison, Reuters reports. Several reports say the attackers, numbering 100 or more, were wearing police uniforms.

Reports of the exact number of prisoners who escaped from the central prison in the city of Dera Ismail Khan are inconsistent, ranging from the official figure of around 175 inmates to the Taliban's claim of closer to 300. A provincial minister tells the regional Dawn news site that 35 "high-profile militants" were among those freed.

The nighttime raid began when "dozens of militants approached the jail in vehicles and on motorcycles," Sebastian Abbot, the Islamabad bureau chief for The Associated Press, tells Renee Montagne on today's Morning Edition. "It lasted for about 4 1/2 hours."

Once they breached the prison's walls, militants rode into the compound on motorcycles, shouting names of specific prisoners over megaphones, calling for them to be released, Abbot says. When they found some of those prisoners, militants blew open the doors of their cells.

The attackers reportedly used mortars, bombs and rocket-propelled grenades to assault the prison. And Reuters, citing local sources, says they may have been aided by informants inside the prison.

An initial report by prison officials found that "police backup arrived over four hours late, and intelligence agencies warned of the attack three days prior," according to Pakistan's GEO TV. "According to the report, weapons of guards at the prison were old."

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