Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pak govt received advance warning of Bannu jailbreak

The destroyed gates at Bannu Central Prison
It's gone almost unreported in the Western press, but the jailbreak at Bannu Central Prison in the northwest of the country on 15 April, in which 384 inmates (out of 944) escaped following an attack by around 150 militants, is the largest such escape in Pakistan's history.
Not only that, but the central government was warned by the security services of an impending attack on the prison as far back as 5 January in a letter which identified Bannu jail as a target, along with Kohat's Air Force base and the local police station.
The militants, from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, blew up the prison gates and freed their comrades-in-arms, with scarcely any opposition. They arrived in a convoy of about 20 vehicles and were armed with RPGs and assault rifles. All access roads were blocked as they broke into the prison.
So confident were they of their safety that the unnamed commander of the raid called journalists afterwards to brag about his audacious attack. “We had maps of the area and we had complete maps and plans of the jail as well,” the commander told Reuters.
“All I have to say is we have people who support us in Bannu. It was with their support that this operation was successful.”
The attackers moved quickly through the prison, apparently seeking out Adnan Rasheed, a former junior technician in the Pakistan Air Force who had been sentenced to death for his part in a 2003 plot to kill former president Pervez Musharraf.
“We had set one hour as the target time for our mission. This included entering the jail, breaking out our people, getting back into our vehicles and reaching a safe spot,” said the commander, although they were actually in the prison for two hours.
Their job was made easier by the fact that there were only 36 poorly equipped  guards on duty instead of the 150 called for. None had had any formal training and some of the rifles they were using were being sought by locals as antiques to hang on their walls. They quickly gave up any resistance, while Police reinforcements arrived only after the attackers had withdrawn.
It has since emerged that Rasheed was reportedly contributing to several social networking sites including Facebook and various blogs while he was on death row in prison. A reporter who received regular messages from him said that he had access to a cell phone in almost all the places he was held and had had to change his number several times.
Since the jailbreak 108 prisoners have returned voluntarily while 35 others had been arrested. At least one has been shot dead. The KP government has removed Bannu Division’s Commissioner Abdullah Mehsud, Inspector General (Prisons) Arshad Majeed Mohmand, Deputy Inspector General (Bannu Range) Muhammad Iftikhar Khan and Deputy Superintendent (Bannu Jail) Muhammad Zahid from their posts and put them on 'special duty'.
A five-member committee set up on the order of Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti has been asked to complete its inquiry within 15 days.
UPDATE: It is being suggested in some quarters in Pakistan that the raid on Bannu Prison is not all it appears to be. According to some sources, the 'raid' was part of a deal between the TTP and the ISI connected to the release of two Swiss hostages in March who had been held by the former since July last year. Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were kidnapped in Baluchistan, around 170 kilometres east of Quetta, but released in North Waziristan. 
According to reports, the TTP were told in advance that there would be no opposition to their attack on the prison if they freed the two hostages.

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