Pakistani officials fear attempt to free jailed militants

By Sumeera Riaz
Officials are concerned the Peshawar Central Prison in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province could be targeted by militants bent on springing their comrades. Photo from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government website.
1 of 2 | Officials are concerned the Peshawar Central Prison in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province could be targeted by militants bent on springing their comrades. Photo from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government website.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb. 28 (UPI Next) --

Senior officials have told UPI Next concerns remain high there may be an attempt to bust out high-profile militants of banned terrorist outfits and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban from Peshawar Central Prison in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, site of two other major jailbreaks.

The facility, one of four central prisons in the province, is sensitive both because it is less than a mile from key civil and military installations, and because its roughly 2,000 prisoners include more than 200 high-profile militants, among them Sufi Muhammad, a close relative of Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP, and Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped the United States hunt down Osama bin Laden.


Zahirul Islam, deputy commissioner for the city of Peshawar, told UPI Next there are two very dangerous terrorist groups in the facility.

"A number of high-profile TTP commanders and terrorists from banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam are posing a great threat to the jail, as these two groups are also rival groups and are at odds with each other," he said.


Afridi's detention in the jail presents a special security concern, he said, with threats against the physician originating from inside and outside the facility.

"The two dangerous militant groups at odds in the jail are unanimous when it comes to killing Dr. Afridi, as his help to the U.S. in tracking down Osama bin Laden is detested by many Taliban factions," Islam said.

The prison is a key security concern because it is in such close proximity to important government and military sites such as the residences of senior officials, Peshawar High Court and Peshawar Police Headquarters.

The deputy commissioner said a comprehensive security plan had been devised to thwart any terrorist attack on the jail to free its high-profile captives.

Under the plan, a quick-response force consisting of police, law enforcement agencies, Frontier Corps and army troops "has been put on high alert," he added.

In recent years, major jail breaks occurred in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan districts. About 400 prisoners fled in the 2012 Bannu jailbreak, while on July 29, 2013, dozens of heavily armed Taliban militants freed more than 200 inmates, including 35 high-profile militants, from DI Khan Jail, prison authorities say. TTP claimed responsibility for both jail breaks.


Kifayatullah Khan, inspector general for Khyber Pakhtunkhawa’s prisons, told UPI Next by phone there are significant threats to the Peshawar prison.

"Extraordinary security measures have been adopted to thwart any jail breakout by the militants to get some senior Taliban commander released," he said. He also did not rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack to free Afridi from the jail.

Khan said several security measures had been taken since Afridi's detention in the jail.

"All nearby routes coming towards the jail are closed by 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, and Dr. Afridi is being kept in an another complex in the premises of the jail to make sure he remains away from the reach of terrorists within the four walls of the jail," he added.

He said prison authorities have written several letters requesting the provincial Home Department -- responsible for internal security -- shift Afridi and other high-profile terrorists to other Pakistani jails.

"Despite written requests to the Home Department, no response has been received as yet," he said.

Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid told UPI Next that jail security is a provincial matter.

"If jails are overcrowded, the provincial governments should build more jails and if there are security issues, they should have [a] security plan in place," he said.


 The province should move Afridi to a secret detention facility to thwart terrorist efforts to get to him, he said.

Earlier, some jail officials requesting anonymity told UPI Next that a few weeks ago daily routine visits of inmates' relatives were canceled and prisoners awaiting trial were not allowed to leave the lockup for a day after a suicide bombing threat to the jail.

A primary school on the premises of the prison has also been closed for security reasons, and the students -- mostly children of police officials assigned to the jail -- are now required to attend classes elsewhere. Hayat Khan, a police official, told UPI Next some of the families had stopped sending their children to school because of security considerations.


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