Security forces ended an hours-long siege by militants at a special police installation in Bannu on Monday and freed several men who were being held hostage following a brazen attack by two burqa-clad suicide bombers.
Up to 10 policemen were wounded, three of them critically, in the attack.
“The bombers shot and injured the guard at the entrance of the Special Branch Police building before making their way into the compound where they lobbed hand grenades,” Waqar Ahmad Khan, the district police officer (DPO), told journalists. Monday’s attack was reminiscent of a daring jailbreak in Bannu in April that led to the escape of 400 inmates.
The militants, who had explosives strapped to their bodies, took at least 10 people hostage – eight of them policemen and two officials in-charge of the Maal Khaana (arms and ammunition store) – at the main compound.
Other policemen, however, took them on, engaging them in a two-hour-long gun battle before army and police commandos rescued the hostages in an operation, a police officer told The Express Tribune.
The district coordination officer, Atifur Rehman, confirmed the rescue operation was conducted jointly by the police and the army.
Local residents were evacuated, shops were closed and a curfew was imposed in the city before the operation, he said. “All entry and exit points of the city were also sealed.”
While the operation continued, one of the bombers detonated the explosives, killing himself and his comrade, DPO Khan said. The second bomber could not set off the explosives strapped to his body. Residents said they heard fierce gunfire followed by a loud bang. “Perhaps the bomber set off the explosives at that point,” Inam Khan told The Express Tribune.
Medics said 10 people were brought to the Bannu District Headquarters Hospital for treatment.
Three of the injured policemen are said to be in a critical condition – one of them has been referred to a hospital in Peshawar due to his precarious condition.
The building was a police station, called Purana City police station, before it was taken over by the Special Branch Police. It is speculated that the militants attacked the compound to free their comrades who were being interrogated there.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the assault.
In a statement emailed to The Express Tribune, TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed that the attack was carried out by five militants – two of whom died while three managed to flee.
“We will continue our war until we throw out the democratic system and implement shariah in Pakistan,” he added.
Bannu borders the North Waziristan tribal region which, US officials believe, is used as a launchpad for attacks in Afghanistan by the Haqqani network and its Pakistani cohorts – the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group of militants.
It was the second brazen attack on police in Bannu this year. In April, militants had stormed the central jail and freed dozens of their comrades in a broad daylight attack in the heart of the city.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2012.