Pakistani Taliban take security forces hostage after seizing detention centre

Conflicting reports emerge of situation as militants demand safe passage to Afghanistan

Police stand guard along a road they blocked after Taliban militants seized a police station in Bannu on December 19, 2022.  - More than 30 Pakistan Taliban militants seized a police station after breaking free from custody and were holding several officers hostage on December 19, officials said.  (Photo by Karim ULLAH  /  AFP)
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A siege of a police counter-terrorism compound by the Pakistani Taliban in northern Pakistan has been under way for the last 24 hours with at least one member of the security forces held hostage and two killed, officials said.

The incident unfolded in the Bannu district of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday.

Accounts varied as to how the siege began, a police official told The National. Some accounts suggested it was an organised raid by a group of militants, while others said it started with a prison breakout from within the besieged building.

Another description of the raid said two counter-terrorism officials were killed and many more injured after militants overpowered interrogators, snatched an AK-47 rifle and opened fire inside the police station.

By one account, at least 15 attackers took policemen hostage and demanded passage to Afghanistan, a demand also made in a video released by the militants.

Police and security forces rushed to the spot and an operation was under way to free the hostages, the source said.

Bannu journalist Gauhar Wazir told The National that when the shooting started police and army personnel were quickly deployed.

“The cantonment area [where the facility was located] has been sealed and the residents have been asked to stay indoors,” Mr Wazir said.

“The internet has been down, roads are closed while the people are stressed and limited to their homes in cantonment areas,” he added, referring to the garrison area where families live close to the security forces.

A senior police official in Bannu, on condition of anonymity, told The National that officials were considering negotiations with the militants to free the hostages. He said the attackers were members of Pakistan’s branch of the Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), who wanted to go to Afghanistan.

“Bannu cantonment area has been sealed, and residents have been asked to stay indoors until further orders,” police officials said. “Militants have also demanded a local religious figure to come forward for negotiation.”

A video clip went viral on Sunday in which one of the militants was allegedly holding a security official at gunpoint.

The alleged militant demanded a “safe passage” to Afghanistan and warned of dire consequences if the demand was not met.

Another alleged militant, whose face was not visible, can be heard saying “eight to ten security personnel” were in their captivity.

He said 35 of his associates, whom he called fedayeen — meaning those who are willing to die — had managed to break free from where they were held and demanded the Pakistan government allow their departure to Afghanistan by plane.

“We broke the jail and the security men are in our captivity and they will be released safely if we are provided a safe exit,” he said.

The TTP said that the prisoners at the centre were mostly “our mujahideen comrades”.

It added that the prisoners had taken many military officers hostage and that they would be willing to release them if they were granted safe passage.

But the TTP rejected the plea for safe passage for the prisoners. It said they were unaware of recent events in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Currently, we have a large area in the tribal areas where a large number of mujahideen including the leadership are present, we do not need to use the territory of Afghanistan,” the group said.

One of the escaped prisoners said in the video that only a few of the detainees were affiliated to the Pakistani Taliban, while most were civilians.

The former prisoner said the men had been detained for several months and were repeatedly tortured.

Regional police officer Wajid Khan told The National that the operation is still under way and the area has been sealed.

Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, special assistant to the region’s chief minister, said the situation was “under control” and security forces had started an operation.

Lakki Marwat is situated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s southern region, which has witnessed a surge in terrorist attacks, especially targeting an array of different security forces including soldiers and police.

On Sunday in a separate attack, four policemen were killed and four were injured when terrorists attacked a police station in Baragai village, Lakki Marwat.

It was the fourth attack on police in the region in the past month.

On November 16, six police were killed when the van they were travelling in was attacked with heavy weapons in Kurram Par, Lakki Marwat.

Subsequently, an operation was launched by the Pakistan army in the Pashan area.

A police official said the hideouts of terrorists were targeted with gunship helicopters during the operation.

Out of the spate of recent attacks, the TTP has claimed responsibility for three separate incidents that happened on the same day, including one targeting military personnel in North Waziristan, and retaliatory attack on security forces in Chitral and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Updated: December 19, 2022, 12:20 PM