Security forces launch operation to rescue Bannu CTD hostages


BANNU: Security forces on Tuesday launched an operation to free hostages being held by TTP militants at the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) police station in the Bannu district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, three sources told Reuters.

Local residents said they heard explosions coming from the vicinity of the facility.

The operation was conducted by the Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army and all hostages were reportedly recovered from the CTD compound.

Sources said that six TTP militants were killed and a clearance operation is now underway at the security facility. Authorities also declared an emergency in all hospitals in the district.

The hostage situation had entered its third day as talks to resolve the stand-off with the militants failed to make headway.

Since no breakthrough was made and the situation remained tense in the town, deputy commissioner Bannu declared that all government and private educational institutions across the district will remain closed today.

All routes leading to Bannu Cantt were closed to traffic, with the barricades manned by law enforcement personnel. Authorities also shut down the cellular network in the district.

On Sunday, two CTD officials were martyred and many more injured after a militant reportedly overpowered interrogators, snatched an AK-47 rifle and opened fire inside the CTD police station in Bannu.

Security forces surrounded the highly fortified cantonment area, where around 20 fighters from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are holed up after seizing control of the facility.

District Police Officer (DPO) Bannu Dr Iqbal told The Express Tribune that the militants had been kept engaged by means of negotiations.

The terrorists were looking to negotiate for safe passage to Afghanistan. However, the situation remained tense as talks with militants yielded no results on Monday.

A senior government official said that the hostages were still being held after a failed operation to free them.

“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 release them later on the Afghan border or inside Afghanistan,” said the DPO.

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.

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.

‘Govt refraining from using force’

Talking to The Express Tribune, Special Assistant to Chief Minister on Information, Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said that the government was refraining from using force due to the presence of innocent people inside the CTD compound.

“These people had been arrested from Lakki Marwat and Bannu and shifted to the CTD compound for interrogation. Several of them were held on mere suspicion and they are still inside the building along with hostages,” he said. Therefore, the police were reluctant to use force against the militants.

“We are asking them to surrender but they are refusing it so far. There were arms and ammunition inside the building which these men [have] seized,” he said. “We are repeatedly urging them to surrender but there is a deadlock in this situation,” he added.

Three of the captives managed to escape from the compound after they were freed from lockup and they were re-arrested by police. These three are not militants and many more trapped inside the building are innocent people, who would be killed if the compound is stormed by police and security forces.

In an earlier statement, Saif had said that no demand of the militants would be accepted and asserted that the only option they had was to surrender peacefully and release all the hostages. He added that by releasing videos, the militants were trying to win support of the general public “but it will not work”