x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pakistani prison attacked by Taliban had just 'a handful of badly armed guards'

The 35 guards, only 10 of whom had weapons, faced 150 attackers. Some were so scared during the assault that they hid in sewer pipes, and others opened up one of the prison's main gates after the militants threatened them.

Policemen (right) and soldiers (left) stand outside a prison following a Taliban attack and mass breakout in Dera Ismail Khan.
Policemen (right) and soldiers (left) stand outside a prison following a Taliban attack and mass breakout in Dera Ismail Khan.

DERA ISMAIL KHAN // Only a handful of badly armed guards were posted at a Pakistani prison assaulted by Taliban militants the prison chief said yesterday.

The 35 guards, only 10 of whom had weapons, faced 150 attackers. Some were so scared during the assault on Monday night that they hid in sewer pipes, and others opened up one of the prison's main gates after the militants threatened them, said a senior government official.

These details are likely to spark further criticism of the government, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the prison was located. The militants freed over 250 prisoners during the attack and killed more than a dozen people.

"Increasingly, the militant network appears an organised, emboldened and well-armed force running rings around a sluggish, even inept, security network," said an editorial in Pakistan's leading English newspaper, Dawn.

The Taliban have smuggled over two dozen militants they broke out of the prison in the town of Dera Ismail Khan to one of the group's stronghold in the country's tribal region, two commanders said.

The deadly raid was code-named "Freedom from Death", cost 11.5 million rupees (Dh422,000) and took six months to plan, said the commanders. It is unclear how so many heavily armed militants were able to travel unhindered in vehicles and motorcycles to the walls of the prison, especially given the intelligence indicating a possible attack. Only 10 of the 35 guards at the prison were armed, and some of their AK-47 assault rifles were not even in good shape, said the head of the prison, Ghulam Rabbani. He said the armed guards fought valiantly until they ran out of bullets. But the militants were armed with bombs and grenades, as well as guns. "The 10 of my men did their best," said Mr Rabbani. "They fought bravely."

But a senior official in the provincial government, Ali Amin Gandapur, criticised the guards, saying some of them were found hiding in sewer pipes and drains and others opened a main gate for the militants after they were threatened.

"This is such a shame," said Mr Gandapur, minister of revenue. "I promise they all have to lose their uniforms."

Mr Rabbani defended his men, saying unarmed guards had a right to hide since they were tasked with controlling the prisoners, not protecting the jail from attack. He held a meeting with city administrators the day of the attack to discuss the threat to the prison, but they were not prepared when the raid happened, he said.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has suspended 27 police and prison officials after the attack, including 22 members of an antiterrorist squad who were supposed act as a quick response force, but failed to do so, provincial officials said.

Authorities have managed to capture 41 of the 252 prisoners who escaped from the prison, said police official Salahuddin Kundi. There were 482 inmates in the prison at the time of the attack. A curfew is still in place in Dera Ismail Khan as authorities search for more of the fugitives.