Pakistan is in deep, deep trouble when the attacks are as brazen as this:
TERRORISTS dressed as police and armed with machineguns and grenades launched a deadly attack on a police academy in Lahore yesterday, triggering an eight-hour gun battle thatÂ killed as many as 34 policemenÂ and wounded 92 others.
Pakistani troops and police have broken the bloody, seven-hour siege of a police training academy in Lahore where militants were holding out with a number of hostages after killing at least eight cadets and three civilians.
Television showed footage of security services celebrating on the rooftop of the academy building, firing their guns into the air.
“The operation is over. Four terrorists were killed and three arrested,” said Kamal Shah, the Interior Ministry Secretary. Other reports put the number of dead militants at eight.
One of the gunmen, Hazrat Gull, was captured alive by security forces as he tried to flee by scaling the wall. Bearded and in his early 20s, Gull reportedly comes from Miran Shah in South Waziristan, the tribal region that is the heartland of al Qaeda and Taleban activities and which has been the target of US missile attacks.
Police said that Gull came to Lahore last month. No details were available about the other assailants.
Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, said: “We have arrested some terrorists. We are interrogating them. One is a Pashtu speaker, a young person.”
He admitted that allowing the gunmen to enter the complex without any resistance had been a severe security breach, but denied that the security services were losing control in Pakistan, where militants appear capable of mounting attacks in big cities with impunity.
“It is wrong to say that law and order has collapsed in Pakistan. We are very near to [tracing] the attackers involved in this,” Mr Malik said.
“It is a planned, organised terrorist attack. This shows the extent to which the enemies of our country can go. We have to fight with unity. Hostile elements have to be eliminated with unity.”
No official death toll has been given, although at least eight police officers are reported to have died, and around 90 to have been injured.
At one point a group of militants were holding around 35 hostages on the top floor of the three-storey main building. Ten hostages were later said to have been rescued.
“The eight hours were like eight centuries,” said Mohammad Salman, 23, one of those who was freed. “It was like I died several times. I had made up my mind that it was all over.”
Rescue workers were shocked by the aftermath. “The compound was littered with bloodied limbs. Part of a severed head that we think belonged to be of one of the suicide bombers lay on the ground, ” said one. The academy building was riddled with bullet-holes, its windows smashed out.
The militants invaded the academy in a commando-style assault that bore similarities to the attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team in the same city this month.
As in the earlier incident the militants appear to be well-trained and organised, all apparently carrying backpacks full of arms and equipment. At least some were disguised in police uniforms.
The ferocious assault began at about 7.20am when the attackers killed the security guards at the rear entrance to the Manawan police academy, then split up and headed towards the parade ground where around 850 police recruits were busy with morning drill. As in the cricket incident, they attacked from four different sides.
Amjad Ahmad, a police official, put the number of the attackers at 10 to 12, half of them wearing police uniform and half in plain clothes, wearing sports kit.
“First a hand grenade came over the wall. Then seven to eight attackers came inside and started firing indiscriminately,” said one recruit, recovering in hospital.
“One was wearing white dress and another fired from the stage. It seemed they wanted maximum loss of life and they fired at anything which moved. I kept crawling and a rescue vehicle took me away.”
Frightened police officers jumped over the wall to escape the attack. Some crouched behind the concrete wall of the compound, their rifles pointed in the direction of the parade. Mohmed Amin broke his leg as he jumped from the second story of the administration block.
Mohammad Asif, a wounded officer taken to a hospital, described the attackers as bearded and young. “We were attacked with bombs. Thick smoke surrounded us. We all ran in panic in different directions,” he said.
Pakistan television showed images of about 12 people in police uniform lying on a parade ground, some apparently dead while others were trying to crawl to cover. Other injured people were being carried out on sheets by rescuers willing to brave the heavy gunfire. One officer, shirtless and clutching a bullet wound in his arm that was bleeding heavily, was able to walk away from the parade ground and was hurried into an ambulance.
Mohammed Riaz, one of the recruits, told Pakistan’s Aaj television station how he and 11 other officers and cadets had barricaded themselves into a room and were still waiting for help to arrive.
“There were three or four back-to-back blasts from hand grenades and rocket launchers,” shouted Mr Riaz, above the noise of explosions.
“When the firing started, 12 of us locked ourselves in a room. We can’t get out because there is intense firing.” Hundreds of soldiers and paramilitary troops wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests threw a security cordon around the compound and imposed a curfew.
Militants took position on the roof of one of the buildings, firing at security forces on the roofs of other buildings and at the army helicopters that hovered over the area.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani praised the security forces for “successfully” taking control of the besieged centre and rescuing hundreds of police personnel who were trapped inside.
Security analysts said that the attack had similarities to the terror attack in early March when a group of gunmen ambushed the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team as their tour bus rounded a roundabout near the Lahore cricket ground, sparking a battle that left six police officers and a driver dead and wounded several of the players.
In both incidents, well-trained gunmen armed with assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers mounted an organised and deadly assault.
“There is great similarity between the two incidents,” said Afzal Shigri, a former senior police officer. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
In the cricket team attack all the militants escaped unhurt, however, melting away into the city, whereas on this occasion the attacking force does not seem to have tried to get away.
The attacks underscore the growing threat of militancy in Pakistan, which is under US pressure to battle al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on its soil.