QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Two Pakistani militants, one of them on death row for killing dozens of minority Shi‘ite Muslims, have escaped from a high-security prison, police said on Friday.
The escape of the two on Thursday night came as security forces were on high alert in the run-up to the climax of a traditional Shi‘ite mourning period this weekend which is often marred by militant attacks.
The two, Usman Saifullah and Shafiq-ur-Rehman, were members of the feared Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group. They escaped from a prison run by an anti-terrorism force in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, police said.
“They fled some time in the night. The lock of their cell was found broken early in the morning,” said a police official who declined to be identified.
“A manhunt has been launched and police and paramilitary troops are raiding their suspected hideouts.”
A senior provincial police officer who also declined to be identified confirmed the two had escaped but did not give details.
The notorious Sunni Muslim Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, which is linked to al Qaeda, has been responsible for attacks in which hundreds of people have been killed in recent years.
Among the attacks Saifullah was involved in was a raid on a Shi‘ite mosque in Quetta in 2003 in which 53 people were killed. He was arrested in Karachi in June 2006.
Rehman, arrested in early 2007, was accused of involvement in similar offensives.
The escape of the two is the second high-profile get-away in just over a month.
A Pakistani British man suspected of involvement in an al Qaeda plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners over the Atlantic Ocean escaped outside an Islamabad court in December.
The suspect, Rashid Rauf, wanted in Britain in connection with a murder, is still on the run.
Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel