Publication: Volume: 3 Issue: 5
May 31, 2012 06:17 PM Age: 24 min By: Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari
In a pre-dawn attack on April 15, militants belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed the Bannu Central Jail in the district of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP). In what is considered the largest prison break in Pakistan’s history, the Taliban successfully freed Adnan Rasheed along with 384 other inmates. According to the TTP’s spokesman, Ihsanullah Ihsan, “Our prime target was Adnan Rasheed, and we are so happy to secure his release” (The News, April 21). Another Taliban commander claimed that they spent 20 million rupees (roughly $220,000) on the Bannu prison break mission (The Express Tribune, April 16). A 34-minute video, released by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on May 15, further shows the meticulous planning undertaken by the TTP to free Rasheed from the death cell (Dawn, May 16).
Before the prison break, Adnan Rasheed was an obscure militant. He is an ethnic Pushtun belonging to the Chota Lahor area of Swabi district of KP (Roznama Jang, April 23). Since Swabi district is predominantly inhabited by the Yousafzai tribe, it is therefore safe to surmise that Rasheed belongs to the Yousafzai tribe. He is reportedly fluent in Pushto, Urdu and English. He joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in 1997 as a junior technician.
On December 14, 2003, an assassination attempt was made on former Pakistan Army chief and President, General Pervez Musharraf, in Jhanda Chichi in Rawalpindi cantonment area, which is situated at a distance of four kilometers from Pakistan Army’s GHQ. A bomb was planted under the Leh Bridge on Jhanda Chichi road and exploded about 30 seconds after the President’s car had passed over it (The News, November 4, 2006). In early 2004, Pakistani security agencies arrested Adnan Rasheed and five other persons – Khalid Mehmood, Nawazish Ali, Nasrullah, Karam Din and Niaz Muhammad – on charges of involvement in an assassination attempt on Gen. Musharraf (Dawn, April 19). Rasheed was working with Amjad Farooqi, a high profile Pakistani terrorist associated with al-Qaeda and the mastermind behind the two assassination attempts on Musharaf in December 2003.  He was 24 years old at the time of arrest. Rasheed, however, pleaded innocence and claimed that his only crime was that he had voted “No” in the referendum held by Musharraf in April 2002 to validate his rule.
In October 2005, the Field General Court Martial awarded death sentences to Adnan Rasheed and five other PAF officials for involvement in the December 2003 assasination attempt (Dawn, April 19). Subsequently, he and the other convicts filed an appeal before the Lahore High Court against the judgment of the Field General Court Martial, which was rejected in March 2006 (The News, March 29, 2006). An appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan met a similar fate in September 2006. Subsequently, all six accused filed a review petition before the Supreme Court, which was also dismissed in March 2011 (Dawn, April 16).
During the course of his trial, Rasheed was kept in various jails. He was lodged in a death cell at Haripur Central Jail in KP, from where he was shifted to Peshawar Central Jail. In September 2011, he was shifted to Bannu prison from where he was able to escape with the help of the Taliban (Dawn, April 16).
During his time in the prison, Rasheed was connected with the outside world through a mobile phone, Facebook and blogs (Pakistan Today, April 17). He was in contact with several journalists and used to send them mobile phone text messages (SMS). The interviews of Rasheed, when he was in prison, were also uploaded on Facebook, wherein he argued against flaws in the Army Act, Pakistan Air Force Act, and Navy Act and urged the Supreme Court to intervene in these cases. He had also sent several letters to the Chief Justice of Pakistan, requesting him to look into the flaws in their cases. In one of his letters to the Chief Justice, he claimed that he was on duty in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province, at the time of the said occurrence, and was picked up by personnel of an intelligence agency on January 9, 2004. One reporter received regular messages from him, proving that in almost all the prisons where he was held he had regular access to cellular phones. He might have had to change his number several times since he was deprived of his phone during search operations in the prisons on multiple occasions. However, after few days had passed, he was once again enjoying the privilege of outside communication with the use of a new cell phone (Dawn, April 16).
According to a fellow jail inmate, Adnan was considered a VIP prisoner in jail and had three cell phones. Rasheed also married a woman just a few years ago while still imprisoned and is the father of a daughter. His wife and daughter live in the family house in Chota Lahore with his widowed mother and a younger brother. On the day of the jailbreak, Rasheed was seen constantly speaking to people on his cell phones. When the militants barged into the jail, they came near the death cell and were loudly shouting Rashid’s name. A jail inmate said that he was sitting quite satisfied in his death cell along with three other prisoners and loudly said “come here, I am here.” The Taliban embraced Rasheed and put a turban on his head after breaking the locks (The News, April 22). Rasheed was taken in a vehicle and was given a warm welcome in the town of Mirali in North Waziristan Agency, which is adjacent to Bannu district.
A brief video clip available on RFE/RL and Youtube shows Rasheed sitting in the front seat of a vehicle and talking in Pashtu with his hosts: “Qari sahib [Rasheed], how are you? How is your health? Are you feeling well?” A jubilant Rasheed looks all around from his car’s window while replying: “Alhamdullah [All praise to Allah], all is well.” Have you won your freedom from the prison, another militant asks, to which Rasheed, nodding his head, again says “Alhamdullah [All praise to Allah].” Another Taliban fighter asks Rasheed, “How much time did you spend in jail?” He replies, “Eight years and four months. I was convicted to death.” Rasheed also replies in the affirmative when an individual inquires if he had been convicted in Musharraf’s suicide attack case.  After spending a few hours in Mirali, Rasheed was taken to Miranshah, headquarters of the North Waziristan Agency (NWA). His present whereabouts are not known. 
The escape of Adnan Rasheed has created fear within the government circles. He is a former PAF employee and the government is concerned that Taliban militants may try to target air force bases in the country.  In the aftermath of the Bannu prison break, the security of jails all over Pakistan is being strengthened. In one recent instance in Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, a firearm and cell phones were recovered from two prisoners – Maaz and Nasrullah – who were involved in sectarian terrorist attacks in the country. A later investigation revealed that both the prisoners were in contact with Adnan Rasheed, as well as with Usman aka Dr. Aqueel, the mastermind of the GHQ attack in Rawalpindi in October 2009. 
Pakistani officials believe that al-Qaeda helped the TTP to conduct the entire operation to secure the release of Rasheed. The involvement of al-Qaeda may mean that it could utilize the expertise of Rasheed to plan future attacks on Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bases. Rasheed has so far remained an obscure militant, probably due to his incarceration. Now that he is free, he may play a more active and larger role given his background in the armed forces and his inclination toward using technologies and utilizing media.
Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari is Associate Research Fellow and Team Leader of South and Central Asia Desk at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
1. Zia ur Rehman, “Bannu Jailbreak”, The Friday Times, April 20-26, 2012, Vol. XXIV, No. 10.
2. “Adnan Rashid: Video of Taliban prison escapee surfaces (VIDEO)”, Global Post, April 20, 2012; “Prominent Taliban Militant Appears In Video After Escape”, RFE/RL, April 19, 2012, http://www.rferl.org/content/prominent_taliban_militant_appears_in_video_after_escape/24554101.html; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0IIo2v1WpA.
3. Telephone interviews with local sources in North Waziristan Agency.
4. “Terrorists Can Attack Sensitive Agencies, Installations and Airports: Federal Interior Ministry”, Islam Times (Urdu), April 26, 2012, http://www.islamtimes.org/vdcjimevouqeiiz.3lfu.html.
5. “Raid on Kot Lakhpat: Pistol and Mobil Phones Recovered”, Roznama Jang (Urdu), May 15, 2012, search.jang.com.pk/printtaza.asp.
- Pakistan Taliban Release Video Boast Of Jailbreak (rferl.org)
- Was Bannu jailbreak an inside job? (dawn.com)
- Intelligence agencies say they warned of Bannu jail attack (dawn.com)
- Pakistani Taliban Free Hundreds Of Prisoners (rferl.org)
- Prominent Taliban Militant Appears In Video After Escape (rferl.org)
- Preliminary report blames Bannu jailbreak on agencies (dawn.com)
- Bannu Jail absconder shown with Taliban in a video footage (dawn.com)
- Pakistani Taliban release video of Bannu jailbreak (longwarjournal.org)
- Militants attack Bannu jail, 400 inmates escape (therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com)
- Taliban release Bannu jailbreak video, vow to free more prisoners (dawn.com)