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Pakistan militants free nearly 400 from jail, including would-be assassin

ISLAMABAD -- One of the nearly 400 prisoners who escaped from a jail in Pakistan on Sunday after it was attacked by militants was on death row for involvement in an assassination attempt on former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a police official said.

Islamist militants armed with guns and rocket propelled grenades attacked the jail, a senior police official said.

One of the escapees, Adnan Rashid, was arrested in 2004 for allegedly planning to assassinate Musharraf in 2003.

He was supposedly the main 'target' the militants aimed to free during the jailbreak, NBC News reported. He was sentenced to death by a military court and was awaiting execution.

According to jail officials the militants "forced other prisoners to escape from the jail to use them as cover to divert the police chase."

The militants "created a scare among prisoners by saying they had planted bombs to blow up the whole prison" said a police official.

Pakistan's al Qaida-linked Taliban movement, which has close links to al-Qaida, said its fighters mounted the assault, which triggered clashes. Several people were wounded.

"We have freed hundreds of our comrades in Bannu in this attack. Several of our people have reached their destinations, others are on their way," a Taliban spokesman told Reuters.

That claim could not be immediately verified.

Police and intelligence officials said only some of the prisoners who escaped were militants.

"Dozens of militants attacked Bannu's centraljail in the early hours of the morning, and over 300 prisoners have escaped," senior police official Mir Sahib Jan told Reuters.

"There was intense gunfire, and rocket-propelled grenades were also used."

Paramilitary troops and security forces surrounded Bannu Central Jail. Of a total944 prisoners in the jail, 384 escaped, said another police official.

Militants apparently targeted six jail blocks in the attack, he said.

The attack could deal a psychological blow to Pakistani security forces following government assertions that security crackdowns have weakened militants.

While the Taliban in neighboring Aghanistan have staged several jailbreaks, such operations are rare in Pakistan.

Reuters contributed to this report.