Officials say Pakistan raid kills all Taliban hostage-takers

World

Security officials guard a blocked road leading to a counter-terrorism center after security forces starting to clear the compound seized earlier by Pakistani Taliban militants in Bannu, a northern district in the Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022. Pakistan’s special forces on Tuesday stormed the counter-terrorism center to free several security officials who were taken hostage earlier this week by a group of detained Pakistani Taliban militants, security officials said. (AP Photo/Muhammad Hasib)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s special forces raided a police center in a remote northwestern district on Tuesday and killed 33 detainees linked to the Pakistani Taliban who earlier this week overpowered guards at the facility, the country’s defense minister said.

Before the rescue operation, the Taliban detainees had seized arms and killed two hostages, Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif told the parliament.

Asif said the remaining hostages were freed Tuesday, but did not provide a number. Earlier, the Taliban had claimed they were holding at least eight security personnel. Asif said 15 members of the security forces were wounded and all 33 hostage-takers were killed in the operation.

The police center is located center in Bannu, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The detainees, held at the facility for years, had overpowered their guards on Sunday. Officials said subsequent negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban were unsuccessful. The Taliban had demanded a safe passage to former strongholds of the militant group.

Mohammad Ali Saif, a government spokesman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said the Taliban hostage-takers were given a chance to surrender before the raid but refused.

Thick black smoke billowed into the sky from inside the compound after two explosions were heard as the raid got underway Tuesday. Intermittent gunshots continued reverberating across the area for two hours, officials said.

Sunday’s takeover of the police center reflected the Pakistani government’s difficulties to exercise control over the remote region along the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, are separate but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan last year as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

On Monday, Mohammad Khurasani, a TTP spokesman, had demanded safe passage for the hostage-takers to North or South Waziristan, areas that were a Taliban stronghold until a wave of military offensives over the past years drove out many of the insurgents.

Since then, top TTP leaders and fighters have been hiding in Afghanistan, though the militants still have relatively free reign in patches of the province.

Emboldened by their takeover of Afghanistan by their allies, the Afghan Taliban, the TTP fighters have stepped up attacks on Pakistani security forces and last month ended a months-long cease-fire with the government. The violence has strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who had brokered the cease-fire in May.

The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of members who are in government custody and a reduction of Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions.

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