Authorities in Pakistan continued Monday to negotiate a resolution to the overnight hostage crisis at a counterterrorism police detention center where dozens of suspected militant inmates have taken multiple officers hostage.
The inmates are demanding safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the hostages’ lives
The ongoing siege in Bannu, a garrison city in the northwestern Khyber Pakthunkhwa border province, has reportedly left at least two policemen dead and several others injured, including an army officer.
The casualties occurred during clashes with the hostage takers when security forces attempted to retake control of the facilities, shortly after the siege had begun.
A senior provincial advisor, Muhammad Ali Saif, confirmed the death of one security official without elaborating. He shared no further details.
Authorities said a group of detainees were being interrogated in connection with incidents of terrorism when some of them managed to grab weapons from security guards before freeing an unspecified number of “high-profile terrorists” from another detention cell.
A provincial government statement later confirmed the events, saying “under interrogation militants snatched weapons from the interrogators and released more prisoners who have all been surrounded” by security forces.
A social media video shows several armed men with an injured person, believed to be a security guard. One of the men, with his face covered and holding an assault rifle, demanded the Pakistani government urgently arrange for all his 35 associates “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 nor have authorities commented on it.
The city administration late on Sunday suspended access to internet and mobile phone services across Bannu, blocking roads leading to the prison compound and ordering residents to stay indoors.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an outlawed militant alliance also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the siege Monday, saying its fighters were among the detainees and asking the government to transfer them to areas near the Afghan border, where the group has its hideouts.
Pakistani negotiators have rejected all the demands, leading to a deadlock in the talks, sources said.
TTP, designated as a global terrorist organization by the United States, Britain and Canada, has recently intensified attacks in Pakistan, killing hundreds of people this year, mostly security forces. The group is a known offshoot and ally of Afghanistan’s ruling Islamist Taliban.
Leaders of the Pakistani Taliban and commanders have long taken refuge in Afghanistan 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. (SJ/VOA)