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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 00:19 GMT
Pakistan hunts al-Qaeda escapees
Pakistani border police are on high alert
Pakistani security forces are pursuing a group of al-Qaeda fighters who escaped from a prison van after a clash that left 11 people dead.

The Pakistani authorities said about 100 al-Qaeda prisoners were being taken in a convoy of vans to the town of Peshawar when the trouble started.

It would be a mistake to say al-Qaeda is finished in Afghanistan at this stage

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

A group of prisoners - said to be Arabs - overpowered their guards and seized weapons, triggering a gun battle in which five soldiers and six of the prisoners were killed.

Pakistani officials said the driver of one of the vans was shot in the struggle and the vehicle overturned.

In the confusion, about 40 prisoners managed to escape - but some have already been recaptured.

Pakistani forces launched a huge manhunt.

The men were captured on Tuesday while trying to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

The border incident happened near the town of Sadda in the semi-autonomous Kurram tribal agency, about 300 kilometres west of Peshawar.

The BBC's Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Lahore, says this is the bloodiest clash between Pakistani security forces and al-Qaeda members since the US-led campaign against Osama Bin Laden and his followers began.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday praised the Pakistani army's role, saying hundreds of people had been caught fleeing across the border from Afghanistan.

He said air bombardments in Afghanistan had now virtually ceased.

Anti-Taleban forces guard a captured cave in the Tora Bora area
Hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters are believed to have crossed into Pakistan after their camps and hideouts in the Tora Bora region of the White Mountain range were targeted in heavy US bombing raids and ground attacks by Afghan forces.

Afghan militia backed by US and UK special forces took Tora Bora last weekend.

The Pakistani authorities have stepped up helicopter and foots patrols in the border areas, but the tribal zones - known as agencies - are difficult to get to, and the government has only limited authority over the region.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"It was a well planned attack"
The BBC's Behroz Khan
"I think it can happen anywhere"
See also:

19 Dec 01 | South Asia
FBI probes prisoners for clues
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
18 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden's disappearing act
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