Schools close as Pakistan Taliban siege on police station drags on

BANNU, PAKISTAN: Local schools were ordered shut on Tuesday out of fear of more kidnappings as a hostage situation at a police station taken over by jailed Pakistan Taliban fighters dragged into its third day.
More than 30 members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group — separate from the Afghan Taliban but with a similar hardline Islamist ideology — overpowered their jailers on Sunday and snatched weapons.
The men, held on suspicion of terrorism, have demanded safe passage to Afghanistan in return for releasing at least eight police officers and military intelligence officials, said Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for the provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.
The district’s deputy commissioner announced schools would close on Tuesday.
“We fear that the Taliban could enter any school in the suburbs and take the students hostage. We are not taking any risks and that’s why we decided to close the schools for today,” said a senior government official in the district who asked not to be named.
The police station is within a cantonment area in Bannu, in Pakistan’s formerly self-governed tribal areas and near the border with Afghanistan.
Offices and roads have closed and checkpoints have been set up around the area.
Pakistani officials have asked the government in Kabul to help with the release of the hostages, the senior government official told AFP.
The TTP said its members were behind the incident and demanded authorities provide them safe passage to border areas.
Overnight on Monday, at least 50 Pakistan Taliban militants stormed another police station in Wana — also close to the Afghan border and some 200 kilometres south of Bannu — according to local government and senior police officials, both of whom asked not to be named.
The group locked up police officers and seized weapons before border force troops moved in to take back control.
The TTP claimed responsibility, saying two police officers were killed.
Authorities have not officially acknowledged the incident.
The TTP emerged in 2007 and carried out a horrific wave of violence in Pakistan that was largely crushed after a military operation beginning in 2014.
However, attacks are on the rise again since the Afghan Taliban seized control of Kabul last year, with most targeting security forces.
A shaky months-long ceasefire between the TTP and Islamabad ended last month.

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