PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Well-wishers in the police force and prison employees in the town of Dera Ismail Khan played a key role in the jailbreak plan that led to the escape of 45 senior commanders at the cost of only two militants, the Pakistani Taliban claimed.
Suicide bombers and attackers with rocket-propelled grenades assaulted the prison, allowing 250 inmates - including top militants - to escape. At least eight policemen were killed, and 21 people - including civilians - were injured in the attack, which began shortly before midnight local time on July 29.
The Taliban also claimed that former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) employee Adnan Rasheed made the jailbreak plan three months earlier and personally chose and trained a group of militants, including Urdu-speaking people hailing from Punjab, for what they deemed a “remarkable achievement” of the Pakistani Taliban.
“We started working on the plan three months ago and chose 10 people initially to settle in Dera Ismail Khan, develop contacts with the police and jail employees, as their prime responsibility was to collect complete intelligence information about the jail,” a senior Taliban commander said.
Requesting anonymity, he added: “Without cooperation of the police and jail employees, successful jailbreaks such as Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan would never have been possible.”
The commander said that on the night of the jailbreak, 10 members of the squad who had gathered enough intelligence about the prison enabled 18 other armed militants to storm the prison.
“The job of this 18-member group was to locate and identify our people in the jail and bring them out from their barracks and hand them over to another group of 40 men. Out of 40, the job of 20 men was to remain inside the jail until all others, including the prisoners and militants, successfully had left the prison."
He added, "Besides, 25 people were responsible for transport, while 25 others were deployed outside the jail for protection of these people. Another 25 were on standby at some distance from the jail premises."
The Taliban leader said their men in the jail were in contact with them through their cellular phones.
Asked if they bribed the police or jail employees, he said: “There are good Muslims everywhere and in every department but they need to be motivated.”
He claimed they lost only two fighters in the entire operation.
The commander also said five Taliban commanders -- including Khitab, Abdul Hakeem, Haji Ilyas, Qari Abbas and Ahmad Bajauri -- were among the 45 prisoners who escaped from the Dera Ismail Khan prison.
Commander Khitab was head of the al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade, while others led Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in major cities.
“Every member of our movement is important and precious to us but these people were considered a valued asset to our movement,” said the Taliban leader.
He said they are specifically trained to plan and carry out attacks in big cities around the country.
Another senior figure of the militant outfit said all of them had been separately held in different places, and were later moved to the Dera Ismail Khan prison.
After their escape, all the prisoners have reached their destinations in the tribal areas and are being frequently visited by fellow militants to congratulate them on their safe arrival, the senior figure added.
“We celebrated our Eid ahead of other Muslims as we received our senior brothers without suffering any major loss. This is a nice gift from a group of mujahideen to other mujahideen on the forthcoming Eid al-Fitr,” the Taliban commander remarked.
He said that like the Bannu jailbreak, the Taliban had also filmed the attack on the Dera Ismail Khan prison and would release the footage soon.
Khitab was the first one to reach his location. Soon after, he made contact with members of his group in the tribal areas.
The Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade was previously headed by Badar Mansoor and then run by Commander Farman Shinwari when the former died in a U.S. drone attack in Miranshah in North Waziristan.
But Shinwari, who reportedly had a Master’s degree in international relations, was also killed in a drone attack in Tapi village near Miranshah. Western media called him al Qaeda’s Pakistan head after he was made chief of the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade a few years ago.
After Shinwari's death, Khitab, was named the brigade’s head. but he was eventually jailed.
According to Taliban sources, the Abdullah Azzam Shaheed Brigade is an alternate name for al Qaeda in Pakistan. The group is named after the late Palestinian jihadi leader Abdullah Azzam, who was killed in a car bomb blast in November 1989 on Peshawar's Arbab Road, along with his two sons.