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33 Pakistani Taliban fighters killed after taking prison hostage

33 Pakistani Taliban fighters killed after taking prison hostage

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s military stormed a security outpost on Tuesday after Pakistani Taliban fighters seized hostages there to break out of custody, officials said.

Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry, the Pakistani military spokesman, said 25 militants were killed in a fierce firefight and that seven surrendered to security forces. Two soldiers were killed during the firefight and ten others, including two officers, were injured, he said.

Fighting in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, near the border with Afghanistan, was the latest outbreak of violence involving Pakistan’s Taliban after a fragile peace deal between the militants and the government collapsed last month.

A resurgence of militants has strained ties between Pakistan and the Afghan government, which accuses the Pakistani government of providing shelter to the Pakistani Taliban.

The hostage-taking began on Sunday at a detention center in a military district in the city of Bannu. Thirty-five Taliban fighters were being held at a detention center run by the province’s anti-terrorist unit for interrogation, officials said.

General Chaudhry said one of the militants held there overpowered a guard, confiscated his weapon and freed the other 34 militants. They confiscated weapons stored on the premises and killed two anti-terrorist officers, while one security officer was taken hostage.

Earlier it was reported that the militants took several hostages, but on Tuesday the military said there was only one hostage. Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif also said on Tuesday that all the hostages had been released after the military operation, without naming the number of hostages.

Officials said security forces cordoned off the compound on Sunday shortly after the breakout attempt began and that two militants were killed in an initial exchange of fire while three others managed to escape.

Negotiations for an unconditional surrender fell through, leading to a commando raid on Tuesday, Gen. Chaudhry said.

“The terrorists wanted safe passage to Afghanistan,” he said. “This condition was totally rejected and the terrorists were told it was out of the question.”

The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, have carried out further attacks in recent months after a peace deal with the government failed.

A Pakistani soldier and two civilians were reportedly killed in an attack by militants in Miran Shah in the North Waziristan region on the border with Afghanistan on Monday. In Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, a civilian intelligence officer was shot dead Monday in an attack alleged by the TTP

At least one civilian and five soldiers or police officers were killed by TTP-affiliated militants in separate attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa last week.

Businessmen in Peshawar said they received blackmail threats from the militants and urged officials to improve security in the area.

The Pakistani military began a massive operation against the Pakistani Taliban in 2014 as peace talks collapsed after years of violence and disruption that threatened much of the country. The offensive blew up the militants, leading to a year-long lull in attacks in Pakistan.

But more recently, the TTP – which is actually a conglomerate of militant cells that have joined brands – again poses a threat to security forces and the government.

Pakistani officials say the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last year, after decades of insurgency, has given a boost to the TTP, which is a separate group but has a sympathetic ideology and has its origins in the religious schools in Pakistan’s tribal areas . The Afghan government has refused to support the TTP

Political tensions in Pakistan, already at a breaking point after Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister in April, have only deepened as militant violence escalated.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has accused Mr Khan, whose political party has ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for the past nine years, of turning a blind eye to a resurgent militant threat there during his tenure.

However, Mr Khan has continued a pressure campaign against Mr Sharif’s government, accusing it of allowing law and order to deteriorate since taking office.

Some analysts said recent peace talks between the government and the TTP, which began when Mr Khan was prime minister, have given the militants a chance to regroup.

Abdul Basit, a research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who tracks militancy in Pakistan, said conditions in both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan have contributed to the resurgence.

“The Taliban’s return to power and safe havens in Afghanistan are having a rejuvenating impact on the TTP,” Mr Basit said.

He said small arms and other weapons that had been provided to the Afghan government for years by US and NATO forces ended up in the hands of the TTP.

“Owning these weapons has also increased the accuracy and lethality of TTP’s attacks,” Mr Basit said.

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