TTP seizure of Bannu counter-terrorism centre enters second day

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Militants apparently from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group seized a counter-terrorism centre in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and took hostages who authorities were still battling to free 24 hours later, officials said on Monday.

At least 15 militants took control of the centre after overpowering interrogators inside, grabbing their weapons and taking five or six of them hostage. Their affiliation could not be immediately ascertained. And a spokesman for the Afghanistan-based group did not immediately confirm or deny a link with the militants in the compound.

A Telegraph report claimed that after entering the facility, the fighters freed several militants jailed inside. An unconfirmed video shared on social media by the TTP showed armed militants surrounding an injured person, believed to be a security guard.

But a spokesperson for Bannu police disputed the account. “It’s not clear if the terrorists attacked from outside, or if they snatched the ammunition from staff inside” while being interrogated following their arrest, Muhammad Naseeb told Reuters.

He said the highly secure detention centre — which authorities say is for individuals involved in terrorism-related offences — had been surrounded by security forces.

Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militants were looking to negotiate for safe passage to neighbouring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which has become a safe haven for TTP fighters.

However, Muhammad Ali Saif, spokesperson of the provincial government, told Independent Urdu on Monday morning that the security situation in the military-administered neighbourhood was far from being resolved.

He said he was involved in night-long negotiations between the militants and law enforcement “but no progress has been made so far”.

“I could not sleep all night. One side [militants] wants safe passage, [but] the other is not ready to offer [them] that,” the report quoted the minister as saying. “The military authorities in Bannu cantonment are looking at the situation,” but a final decision will be taken by the top brass, he added.

Saif also confirmed direct negotiations between the militants and the army representatives, which he said began last night, were ongoing.

Citing local journalists, the report said strict security measures have been taken and the neighbourhood has been put on high alert. It further said the neighbourhood has been “completely sealed off for any entry”.

Pakistan has been fighting an insurgency by the group. The TTP associates itself with Afghanistan’s Taliban, which had been trying to broker talks between Islamabad and the fighters.

The United States and the United Nations have declared the TTP a global terrorist organisation. Leaders of the group and commanders have long taken refuge in the neighbouring country and direct cross-border terrorist attacks from bases there.

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