by Jibran Ahmed and Asif Shahzad
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s security forces killed 25 of 35 Islamist militants holed up in an anti-terrorism center in the northwestern city of Bannu, while taking one hostage and two commandos in an operation to retake the compound. I was killed, the army said.
Militants held at the center took control of the compound on Sunday after overpowering their interrogators and taking their weapons, leading to a two-day siege that eventually led to army commandos storming the compound on Tuesday.
Army spokesman Major General Ahmed Sharif told local TV channel Geo News late on Tuesday that seven of the 35 hiding terrorists surrendered and the other three who tried to escape were arrested. He said one hostage, a security officer, died during the raid.
Earlier on Tuesday, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif had said that all terrorists had been killed and all hostages had been rescued, but later clarified that the army would provide final figures and details of the operation.
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The army spokesman’s comments provided the first detailed official account of the standoff, in which two security personnel were killed when the terrorists first captured the compound, and two commandos were killed in the ensuing raid.
He said that one terrorist was earlier able to overpower his interrogator with a brick and seize his weapon. Later other terrorists at the center barged into a store room where the seized weapons were kept.
Sharif said, “We tried hard to make them (terrorists) surrender unconditionally. They were not ready.”
Army commandos stormed the center on Tuesday after failing to resolve the two-day standoff. Ten soldiers including three officers were also injured.
Sharif described the raid as a fierce firefight. Earlier, residents said they heard explosions coming from around the center on Tuesday as helicopters were flying overhead.
The militants mostly belonged to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group of Sunni Islamist and sectarian groups that aligns itself with the Afghan Taliban.
The TTP emerged to fight the Pakistani state and enforce its hardline brand of Islam after US-led coalition forces intervened in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001 to oust its ruling Taliban and drive them over the border into Pakistan.
The TTP has stepped up attacks in recent weeks since last month announcing the end of an Afghan Taliban-brokered ceasefire with Islamabad.
The TTP initially confirmed the militants’ demand to go to Afghanistan, but later said that Pakistan’s former tribal areas were also safe for militants to flee to.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar, Asif Shahzad and Saud Mehsud Dera Ismail Khan in Islamabad; Writing by Jibran Peshimam and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Michael Perry)
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