PESHAWAR – Armed with guns, grenades and rockets, hundreds of militants stormed Central Prison Bannu in the dead of night early on Sunday and freed 384 inmates, including one on death row for trying to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.Bannu borders the South Waziristan Agency. Around 400-500 armed militants attacked the central jail of the district at around 1:30 am and the battle continued for two hours. The militants reportedly came in cars and pick-ups and started shooting and lobbing grenades to force their entry into the prison. They broke locks and freed the inmates, some of them hardcore militants. The officials said that at the time of the attack some 944 prisoners were present at jail. The militants began freeing prisoners after the guards ran out of ammunition. No one was seriously injured or killed in the attack. Officials said that one of the prisoners freed was Adnan Rashid, on death row for assassination attempt on former president Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf. They said some militant commanders had recently been moved to Bannu jail after authorities received intelligence that Taliban militants might be planning major raids on detention centres holding insurgents.Talking to media persons, Minister for Information Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mian Iftikhar Hussain said 384 prisoners managed to escape from Central Prison Bannu during attack. He maintained that escaped prisoners also included 20 hardened criminals who had been awarded death sentence. One of Bannu jailbreak escapees, who later changed his mind and returned to the prison, told media that at least 400-500 heavily armed attackers had stormed the jail to set the prisoners free. He said bearded men barged into the jail shooting and bombing and told them to flee amid fire and thunder of the guns. Panicked, we did follow them out of the prison for some distance, but then decided to turn back fearing police might open fire, he said.To a question, he said he changed his mind because his term was almost over and the jailbreak would have been of no consequence for him except more trouble. Meanwhile, IGP KP Akbar Khan Hoti has said that some 100 prisoners came back to prison. He said police reached the prison when they received the news of the attack. The IG KP further said that he had issued directions to beef up security at other prisons across the province. A spokesman for TTP South Waziristan Agency, Asimullah Mehsud has claimed responsibility for the attack and said that about 1200 of their comrades had been freed in the attack, adding, “Several of our people have reached their destinations while others are on their way”. Agencies add: Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group claimed responsibility for the attack. “We attacked the Bannu prison and got our special members freed,” Ehsan told AFP.“In a couple of days when all of them have reached their designated places we will issue details about them. At the moment I cannot give you exact numbers.”“We have released our men without losing a single man,” said Ehsan. “We had been planning this blessed operation for months.”The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades at the black, metal gates of the prison, blowing them open. Debris was strewn on the ground inside, including locks that were shot off doors. Walls were pockmarked with bullet holes.A senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prison guards had offered little resistance to the Taliban, who were in “total control” of the facility for over two hours. “The militants asked them to get aside and leave,” he said.“I don’t remember the exact time, but it must have been way past midnight. There were huge explosions. Plaster from the ceilings fell on us,” said prisoner Malik Nazeef, speaking by mobile phone to Reuters from the jail in the town of Bannu.“Then there was gunfire. We didn’t know what was happening.”Information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain said, “We will investigate why militants were able to carry out such an attack successfully and what the security was doing,” he said.He said the militants blocked all roads leading to the prison to delay the arrival of any reinforcements and targeted six barracks where “dangerous insurgents” were being kept.Security forces cordoned off the area and arrested some of the escapees, while others returned voluntarily saying they had fled to avoid the gunfire, Hussain said.A large number of militants had recently been moved to the jail from neighbouring Kohat and Lakki Marwat prisons, which are being converted into centres to rehabilitate former insurgents, a security official said.The authorities launched a search operation in Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Kohat, shutting down mobile phone networks and army troops along with paramilitary forces and police have launched a search operation. But the most likely destination for many of the fugitives was North Waziristan. Senior Bannu police official Iftikhar Khan told AFP that at least three police officials were wounded in the attack.The attackers outnumbered the security forces at the prison and militants fled before reinforcements reached the jail, he said.Provincial home secretary for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Azam Khan said 11 prisoners were arrested while 29, including a woman, returned to jail themselves.Prisoner Nazeef described how tall, bearded men with AK-47 rifles yelled “God is Greatest”, fired their weapons at the prison’s ceilings, and asked inmates about Rasheed’s whereabouts.“One of them had a large hammer and tried to break the lock of our cell. It didn’t work so they shot the lock off with their guns. They had wireless sets and were talking to each other. One of them then said that they had found Adnan Rasheed,” he said.“The entire activity in our block lasted almost an hour. I saw only 15 to 20 men but from the sound and gunfire, I could tell there were many more. None of them were wearing masks.”While the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan have staged several jailbreaks, such attacks are rare in Pakistan. A year ago the Afghan Taliban staged a jailbreak in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. In that episode, hundreds of Taliban fighters escaped through a tunnel that insurgents had dug into the prison compound, helping to refill the ranks of the insurgency.In the case of Bannu jailbreak, it appeared most of the escapees were incarcerated for other crimes, not militancy, making it unclear whether the jailbreak will significantly bolster the ranks of the insurgency.