Pakistan warns prisons of 'massive' jailbreak

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan on Thursday issued a threat alert for a potential "massive" prison break in the restive north-west after the government announced an end to a moratorium on the death penalty in terror-related cases.

"We received terror alert today about a possible prison break in four major prisons of the province," a senior prison official in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who saw the alert told AFP on conditions of anonymity.

"The letter had warned of a massive prison break," he added.

He said the Home Department has advised prison officials to collaborate with the local police to increase security around all high profile inmates charged with terror-related offences.

Another senior intelligence official confirmed that a threat warning had been issued.

He said there are a number of high profile terrorists on death row in four prisons in the province who might be executed within days.

"The terrorists might attack prisons to free their comrades on death row specially after the end of moratorium on death sentence," he told AFP requesting anonymity.

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced on Wednesday an end to the ban on the death penalty in terror-related cases after an attack a military-run school in Peshawar claimed by the Taleban killed 148 people, mostly schoolchildren.

The assault in the northwestern city of Peshawar is the deadliest ever terror attack to strike the country and has shocked the nation.

Political and military leaders have vowed in response to wipe out the home-grown Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of ordinary Pakistanis in recent years.

Pakistan imposed a defacto moratorium on civilian executions in 2008, though hanging remains on the statute book and judges continue to pass the death sentence.

Only one person has been executed since then: a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.

Rights campaign group Amnesty International estimates that Pakistan has more than 8,000 prisoners on death row, most of whom have exhausted the appeals process.

In July last year, dozens of heavily armed Taleban fighters freed nearly 250 prisoners, including hardcore militants, during a sophisticated overnight attack on a jail in the north-west.

It was not the first time either the Afghan Taleban or their Pakistani counterparts have claimed prison breaks. In April 2012, nearly 400 prisoners escaped from a jail outside Pakistan's northwestern town of Bannu during a similar insurgent raid.

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