A terrorist plan to execute a jailbreak, besides carrying out a killing spree, in Central Prison Hyderabad might have been thwarted but the vulnerabilities of the prison still exist.
The prison is home to around 2,500 inmates, among them are 57 high value targets (HVTs) including target killers and militants. The prison escaped the blitz thanks to an intelligence operation, which busted the group when the design was in the final stage of execution.
Two weeks ago, the Inter-Services Public Relations chief Lt Gen Asim Bajwa's revelation of a meticulously planned terrorist attack on the jail startled many. According to him, around two dozen perpetrators and collaborators, including six suicide bombers of foreign origin, were part of the plan that was nearly 90% complete.
The terrorists prepared a list of 40 inmates to slay and another 100 to break free. These included alQaeda’s Ahmed Omar Saeed Shaikh, the murder convict of journalist Daniel Pearl, and Shahzad Ahmed, the man involved in the 2004 attack on Karachi corps commander, Bajwa shared in his February 12 presser.
A hand-made drawing of the jailbreak plan, 350 kilogrammes of explosives, suicide vests, detonating cord, IEDs, explosives grinding machine, steel balls for suicide jackets and several rifles and shot guns snatched from the police were recovered. The terrorists had rented a house in Latifabad Unit 5 and had started a business of plastic containers.
The initial swoop, guided by an intelligence agency, was carried out at two places in Latifabad on September 15, 2015. Around seven suspects, including two women, were detained. The subsequent operation led to further arrests and unearthed the jailbreak plot.
Hyderabad prison, built in 1894, has seen many mutinies with the last one in July, 2012, and another in March, 2011, when seven prisoners were killed in the security operation to restore control. "The threat of an external attack by terrorists is more menacing," said a prison police official, who requested anonymity. "They [terrorists] come to kill and get killed [to achieve their objective]. But the prisoners' revolt is something of a different nature. Less intensive!"
The jail also houses women and juveniles prisons, residential quarters for the staff and 22 acres of agricultural farm. The prisoners’ barracks are divided into two separate sets, called ‘chakar’ [circled] by two circular walls, each of them contain between 12 and 14 structures.
On February 25, the prison population stood at 2,457 against its capacity to accommodate 1,527 inmates. Some 1,009 of these inmates have been convicted, including 587 for murder and 94 for kidnappings. A total of 194 are condemned, including 176 for murder and six for kidnapping. A total of 1,218 are under-trial prisoners, among others, housed in the jail.
The HVTs are kept in a separate building, which is provided an additional security by the Rangers. These include 21 belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, 14 target killers allegedly belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, 10 from Jundullah, six from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and one each of alQaeda, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Awami National Party.
Besides the prison police, 57 Rangers personnel, 90 Frontier Constabulary men and 99 men from the district police are deployed.
A rectangular compound wall has been built outside the circular walls to further enclose the barracks. “This part of the prison is fully secured,” said a law enforcement officer. What makes matters worse is the densely populated neighbourhood and Zubeida Girls College surrounding two sides of the prison. The rest is taken up by National Highway and Phuleli Canal.
“The weakness lies with the exterior walls [the third layer of walls] that have yet to be raised in height and made bombproof," the officer pointed out. The Sindh government approved a project to raise the walls to 16 feet while also making them bombproof in April-May 2015 but the budget allocation only started this week.
“The tender has been given only for two sides of the wall - one along Zubeida college road and another with the highway,” said an official of the Sindh Prisons and Police Works Department. “The construction work also began a few days ago." He was not aware when the tender for the remaining two walls will be given.
Under the project, a 609-metre portion of the exterior walls and another measuring 505 metres will be reconstructed after the demolition of the existing walls at a cost of over Rs240 million. “If the funds kept pouring in without delays, the project can be completed in around six months," said the officer.
The existing exterior walls - measured at 609 metres from two sides and 505 metres and 414 metres from the other two - have nine watchtowers manned by the jail police. But, according to a source, none of them are equipped with an alarm. "If a terrorist attack jammed a walkie-talkie set at a particular tower and killed the jail personnel, no one will know the jail has come under attack," said an official.
Moreover, only four of the eight closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) installed in 2013 are currently functional, said an official. "There is no CCTV camera on the exterior walls and several inside locations that require regular watch also don't have these cameras," he added. The jail authorities have submitted recommendations to install CCTV cameras throughout the prison but the proposal has yet to be accepted.
Another security threat is posed by the traffic congestion at the intersection adjacent to the main entrance of the jail. “The terrorists can paralyse the movement of traffic if they explode a bomb outside the main entrance,” said an official. “This will choke the traffic and can gain them some more time before a response comes from the army or the Rangers."
A security official said that the district administration has been requested to speed up the anti-encroachment drive and road expansion work on the small stretch of the highway between Pathan Colony and central jail. But he expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of work, which is still stuck at the two-kilometre stretch between Hosh Mohammad Sheedi flyover in Qasimabad and Qasim Chowk. It will be followed by another piece of 800 to 900 metres between Qasim Chowk to Pathan Colony.
Moreover, an under-construction, six-storey building, Sheiza Heights, situated in front of the jail's main entrance, provides a panoramic view of the entire prison. "Terrorists can take position from any flat or the roof to attack the prison,” said a security official. “A sniper attack against any particular prisoner [when they come out of the barracks] can't be ruled out as well."
The jail sources claimed that the Sindh High Court has stayed construction of the building but an influential person in the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government is going ahead with the project.
Hyderabad jail superintendent Ziaur Rehman refused to share information about any correspondence on security needs that they had with high-ranking officers and the government. But he tacitly acknowledged risks posed by the outer wall and also a lack of regular data collection of inhabitants residing in localities near the jail.
Hyderabad SSP Irfan Baloch said the district police are not responsible for regularly maintaining record of these residents as, according to him, the intelligence agencies are already performing this task.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2016.