Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wave of Deadly Attacks in Pakistan

Wave of Deadly Attacks in Pakistan
By ZAHID HUSSAIN, Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2009

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan erupted in a wave of insurgent violence Thursday when gunmen attacked three security-agency buildings in the eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 20, including six attackers, and a suicide bomber killed at least six people at a police station in the country's northwest, according to officials.

Police suspected that as many as 50 militants were involved in the attack on the Elite Force police center in Lahore. Major General Shafqat Ahmed, the general officer in charge of Lahore, said the center had been cleared of militants and five attackers were killed. He said a search operation was being carried out for the other assailants. The center provides training to the antiterrorist police force.

At least three people were killed when about half a dozen gunmen attacked a building occupied by the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan's equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is involved in counter-terrorism investigations. Two of the dead were FIA officials.

At least five FIA officials are being held hostage. Pervez Rathore, the city's police chief said the attackers are wearing suicide-bomb vests. The FIA was targeted last year, too, when militants blew up a nine-story building where militants were being detained.

Mr. Rathore, Lahore's police chief, said four gunmen stormed the Manawa police academy. He said three of the attackers blew themselves up and the fourth was killed by police. Four policemen were also killed.

At the Elite Force building on Bedian Road, the militants engaged in an intense gunbattle with the security forces. Mr. Rathore said some 10 heavily armed militants had entered the building. The attackers included three women, the first time women were believed to be involved in a Pakistan terror attack. Army troops were called in, and helicopters were hovering over the building.

The total number of dead so far in the three Lahore attacks is 20, including six attackers.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed the responsibility of Lahore attacks, according to a private TV news channel, GEO News.

In the suicide car bombing, police say the attacker rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a police station in the Kohat district in northwest Pakistan, killing six people. Some 20 people were wounded, according to the Associated Press.

Rehman Malik, the Federal interior minister, said Thursday's events represented a concerted attack by the militants. "They are targeting the security forces," he told reporters. He said the FIA building has now been cleared; the fate of the hostages wasn't immediately clear. Police said two militants had been killed.

Thursday's violence, severe and coordinated even by the deadly standards of recent insurgent attacks in Pakistan, comes as the military is preparing a ground offensive in South Waziristan, a tribal area believed by U.S. and Pakistani officials to be the stronghold of Pakistan's Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban has vowed to step up attacks in Pakistan unless the offensive is called off.

The attacks come just days after an audacious attack on the Pakistani military's headquarters in Rawalpindi outside Islamabad that left 20 people dead after a prolonged standoff between the militants and commandos.

More than 120 people have died in attacks in the past week in Pakistan. On Monday, a suicide car bombing aimed at Pakistani soldiers in the country's northwest killed at least 41 people, officials said, even as the country was still reeling from the Rawalpindi attack and attacks on a U.N. office in Islamabad, a crowded urban market and most recently a rural military patrol. The strikes follow a relatively quiet summer and underscore the threat still posed by Islamist militants, despite military efforts against them.

Lahore has become a popular target for Pakistan's insurgents as militant groups from the northwestern tribal regions increasingly coordinate attacks with groups based in Punjab province, which includes Lahore. In March, gunmen attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team during its visit to Lahore, killing six police officers. That attack, officials say, was masterminded by Mohammed Aqeel, also known as Dr. Usman, a member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Punjabi militant outfit with strong links to the main Pakistan Taliban's faction and al Qaeda. Mr. Aqeel also led the attack on the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, officials say, and was captured in the attack.

Also in March, gunmen armed with assault rifles and hand grenades stormed the same police academy in Lahore, sparking a daylong battle with security forces that left at least 11 people dead before the assailants were overwhelmed by paramilitary troopers and police.

Hostage drama ends at Bedian; 20 dead in Lahore attacks - Dawn
Militants groups in Pakistan's Punjab province - Reuters
Fear and anxiety growing in Pakistan - BBC
Lahore terrorist attacks foiled; all attackers killed - The News

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