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Taliban frees hundreds in jail raid

Taliban militants have attacked a prison in north-west Pakistan, freeing at least 380 prisoners including at least 20 insurgents described by police as "very dangerous".

The raid by more than 100 fighters was a dramatic display of the strength of the uprising gripping the nuclear-armed country. The escaped prisoners may now rejoin the fight, giving momentum to a movement that has killed thousands of Pakistani officials and ordinary citizens since 2007.

The fighters, armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, attacked the prison before dawn in the city of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said police officer Shafique Khan. They fought with guards for around two hours before freeing the 380 prisoners, including at least 20 "very dangerous Taliban militants", he said.

One escaped prisoner, Adnan Rashid, was allegedly involved in an assassination attempt against former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, Mr Khan said.

The prison housed 944 inmates.

Taliban spokesman Asimullah Mehsud claimed fighters freed 1,200 of their comrades. The group is known to make exaggerated claims.

Pakistan's military has launched a series of operations against the Pakistani Taliban group in the north west, where it is strongest and has forged alliances with al Qaida and other transnational militant movements based there along the Afghan border.

Soldiers and police have killed or arrested hundreds of militants, but the insurgency has proved resilient. Insurgents have carried out suicide bombings and other attacks across the country in retaliation, raising doubts in some quarters over whether the county can survive. Prison breakouts like this one are extremely rare.

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