Jailed Pakistan Taliban take hostages after seizing police station

Police stand guard along a road they blocked after Pakistan Taliban militants seized a police station in Bannu and took several hostages after overpowering their jailers

More than 30 Pakistan Taliban militants were holding several officers hostage on Monday after breaking free from custody and seizing a police station, officials said.

Members of the Tehreek–e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group — separate from the Afghan Taliban but with a similar hardline Islamist ideology — overpowered their jailers on Sunday and snatched weapons.

The militants, held on suspicion of terrorism, are demanding safe passage to Afghanistan, Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for the provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, said in a statement late Sunday. 

A senior government official in Bannu, where the incident unfolded near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s formerly self-governed tribal areas, said hostages were still being held after a failed operation to free them. 

“During the interrogation, some of them snatched guns from the policemen and later took the entire staff hostage,” he told AFP on Monday, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

“They want us to provide them safe passage via a ground route or by air. They want to take all the hostages with them and to release them later on the Afghan border or inside Afghanistan.”

Pakistani officials have asked the government in Kabul to help with the release of hostages, he added.

A second government official told AFP that “practically no progress” had been made by Monday evening. 

The TTP claimed responsibility for the incident and demanded authorities provide safe passage to border areas.

“Otherwise, the entire responsibility of the situation will be on the military,” the TTP said in a statement.

A video posted to social media, which the government official confirmed to be from the scene, showed a group of armed men, with one threatening to kill all the hostages.

He said they had at least eight hostages, including police and military staff.

The TTP emerged in 2007 and carried out a horrific wave of violence in Pakistan, with violence reducing after a military operation that began in 2014. 

Attacks are on the rise again since the Afghan Taliban seized control of Kabul last year, however, with most targeting security forces.

A shaky months-long ceasefire between the TTP and Islamabad ended last month.

In 2012 and 2013, dozens of heavily armed Taliban fighters freed more than 600 prisoners, including hardcore militants, during two sophisticated overnight attacks on a jail in Bannu.