Center for Strategic Communication

The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a complex assault that included suicide bombers against a prison in Dera Ismail Khan, freeing more than 200 prisoners, including at least 30 “hardcore militants.” The attack was likely carried out by the Ansar al Aseer, a joint Taliban and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan unit that has been designated to free imprisoned jihadists.

The attack began around midnight with a massive explosion outside the prison, which was followed by several more detonations designed to breach the prison walls. A team of Taliban fighters dressed in police uniforms then stormed the prison and engaged the guards while searching for imprisoned jihadists.

Outside the prison, teams of armed fighters deployed to block Pakistani security forces who attempted to reinforce the prison guards. Taliban fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns took control of a nearby hospital and a home and opened fire on Pakistani troops as they rushed to the prison, Reuters reported. Fighting lasted for more than three hours before security forces regained control of the prison.

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack, and said that hundreds of prisoners were freed. Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed that more than 100 fighters and several suicide bombers executed the attack on the prison.

“We had sent around 150 fighters including a squad of suicide bombers. The aim was to free the inmates and it was a successful action as Taliban managed to free at least 300 prisoners,” Shahid said, The Times of India reported.

A Pakistani official confirmed that more than 200 prisoners, including dozens of jihadists, escaped during the jailbreak.

“A total of 243 prisoners have escaped, six of them were later arrested by police,” said a senior government official who was identified as Mushtaq Jadoon, according to Al Jazeera. At least “30 among the escaped prisoners were hardcore militants.” The identities of those who escaped have not yet been disclosed.

Ansar al Aseer tasked to free prisoners

The midnight attack in Dera Ismail Khan was likely executed by the Ansar al Aseer, a joint unit created by the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The two groups announced the formation of the Ansar al Aseer, which is specifically tasked to free jihadist prisoners and support their families, in January 2013. Adnan Rasheed, a dangerous Pakistani jihadist who was freed in a nearly identical jailbreak last year; Yassin Chouka, a wanted German commander in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan; and Abdul Hakeem, a Russian IMU member released the video announcing the establishment of the group.

Rasheed is a Pakistani terrorist who was involved in the Dec. 14, 2003 assassination attempt against then-President Pervez Musharraf. A member of the Pakistani Air Force, Rasheed was sentenced to death for his role in the assassination attempt. The execution was never carried out and he was placed in a prison in Bannu, near Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Rasheed worked for Amjad Farooqi, the Pakistani terrorist who engineered the two assassination attempts against Musharraf in December 2003 at the behest of al Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al Libi; Farooqi is suspected of involvement in other terror attacks as well. Farooqi was a member of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan; the Harkat-ul-Ansar and its successor, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen; Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami; and Jaish-e-Mohammed. He served as a close aide to Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami. In addition, Farooqi served as the group’s representative to al Qaeda’s International Islamic Front.

The Taliban committed to free Rasheed from prison. On April 15, 2012, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan launched a successful operation to free Rasheed and nearly 400 prisoners, including an estimated 200 Taliban fighters and jihadists, being held at a prison in Bannu. The operation was directed by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and Waliur Rehman Mehsud, the group’s former deputy who was killed in a drone strike in late May. More than 150 fighters assaulted the prison. Rasheed was later featured in a videotape celebrating the jailbreak.

Since his escape from prison, Rasheed has featured prominently in Taliban propaganda. In March 2013, Rasheed released a video that showed a squad of heavily armed Taliban fighters who he claimed are assigned to killed Musharraf. Rasheed said the “death squad” is split up into groups of “fedayeen, sniper team, special assault team, and close combat team.”

And two weeks ago, Rasheed released a letter to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who was wounded by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education. Rasheed attempted to justify the attack in the letter, which said he was written in a personal capacity and not speaking for the Pakistani Taliban or any other jihadist group.