Dozens of militants in custody in a Pakistan counterterrorism police detention facility Sunday overpowered multiple security guards and took them hostage, demanding safe passage to neighboring Afghanistan in exchange for their lives.
Pakistan security sources and residents confirmed the ongoing hostage crisis in Bannu, a garrison city in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province.
Sources said suspected militants were being interrogated at the highly secure detention center when they managed to grab weapons from police personnel guarding them and later freed an unspecified number of “high-profile terrorists” from another detention cell. Up to 35 armed men were holed up in a part of the compound with hostages, the sources added.
Pakistan military forces, including commandos, immediately surrounded the building and an operation was under way to end the siege.
A provincial government spokesman in a statement late Sunday confirmed that while “under interrogation militants snatched weapons from the interrogators and released more prisoners who have all been surrounded.”
The brief statement added that the security forces’ “operation will be completed soon.”
A social media video shows several armed men with an injured person, believed to be a security guard, in custody. One of them, with his face covered and holding an assault rifle, demanded in the footage that the Pakistani government urgently arrange for their safe air passage to Afghanistan. Otherwise, he threatened to kill all the hostages.
The authenticity of the video could not be ascertained from independent sources.
There were no immediate claims of responsibly for the hostage-taking. It followed an attack by heavily armed militants on a police station in the nearby city of Lakki Marwat early Sunday.
The overnight raid left four security officers dead and several wounded, the city police spokesman said Sunday. Shahid Hameed told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that the militants struck the station at midnight and managed to escape after a brief firefight with police guards.
No one claimed the attack.
The Pakistani border province has seen a surge in militant attacks in recent months, most of them claimed by the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban.
The United States and the United Nations have declared the TTP a global terrorist organization. It is a known offshoot and ally of Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban.
Leaders of the Pakistani Taliban and commanders have long taken refuge in the neighboring country and direct cross-border terrorist attacks from Afghan bases, according to the Pakistani government.
Islamabad has said that the return of the Taliban to power in Kabul has emboldened TTP operatives to intensify cross-border terrorist activities and urged the de facto Afghan rulers to curtail them.
TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud said while speaking to CNN last week that the Afghan Taliban were not helping his group in waging attacks in Pakistan.
“We are fighting Pakistan’s war from within the territory of Pakistan; using Pakistani soil. We have the ability to fight for many more decades with the weapons and spirit of liberation that exist in the soil of Pakistan,” Mehsud said.
The Afghan Taliban deny that the TTP or any other groups is being allowed to use Afghanistan to threaten other countries, including Pakistan. The Kabul regime has brokered and hosted talks between Pakistan and TTP leaders in recent months to help them negotiate a settlement, but the process recently broke down.
The Pakistani Taliban say their violent campaign is meant to overthrow the country’s government and impose their strict version of the Islamic system of governance.