A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack, which involved suicide bombers and heavily-armed jihadists, some dressed in police uniforms.
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the Dawn daily about 100 militants had taken part in the attack on the prison in Dera Ismail Khan, about 180 miles to the south of the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Peshawar.
The Associated Press quoted the town’s civil commissioner, Mushtaq Jadoon, as saying that more than 200 prisoners had escaped, and at least six had later been recaptured.
Jadoon said the attackers detonated bombs and used rifle-propelled grenades during the assault, which continued for hours. He said the militants had killed six policemen, a civilian and six Shi’ite prisoners, decapitating one.
An official at the commissioner’s office reached by phone said he could not confirm the deaths of the Shi’ites, as the matter was still under investigation. He did confirm that two civilians employed as security guards had been killed.
The official said a curfew had been imposed and efforts were underway in and around Dera Ismail Khan to track down the escapees and attackers.
Among those being held at the prison were hundreds of members of the TTP and other Sunni jihadist groups, including some known for targeting minority Shi’ites.
On Friday evening, more than 50 people were killed and well over 100 injured in bombings in mainly Shi’ite areas in a town near the border with Afghanistan, an attack claimed by a TTP sub-group, Ansarul Mujahideen.
The bombers targeted a busy market at a time when people were shopping for food for the iftar meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast. The “holy month of Ramadan” is meant to be a time of Islamic unity and peace.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has pledged to pursue peace talks with the TTP, a coalition of militant groups with close ties to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Previous such initiatives by predecessor have failed – and led to increasing violence on both sides of the border, according to coalition commanders in Afghanistan.
Hours before the Dera Ismail Khan prison attack Sharif’s government condemned a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, one of the tribal areas adjacent the Afghanistan border, calling it “a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Pakistani officials said at least six suspected militants had been killed in the strike on Sunday night.
Campaigning ahead of the May election that brought him to power, Sharif vowed to bring the drone attacks to an end. He is expected to raise the issue when Secretary of State John Kerry in the coming days pays his first visit to Islamabad in his current role.