QUETTA: Unknown armed militants wearing suicide vests stormed a Pakistani police academy, killing at least 61 people and wounding 122, officials said Tuesday, in one of the deadliest extremist attacks this year.
Three gunmen from a Pakistani Taliban-linked group burst into the sprawling academy, targeting sleeping quarters that are home to some 700 recruits, sending terrified young men fleeing.
“I saw three men in camouflage whose faces were hidden carrying Kalashnikovs,” one cadet told reporters. “They started firing and entered the dormitory but I managed to escape over a wall.”
The attack on the Balochistan Police College, around 20 kilometres east of provincial capital Quetta, began at around 11:10 pm (1810 GMT) Monday, with gunfire continuing to ring out at the site for several hours.
Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of Balochistan, told reporters the attackers first killed a tower sentry before accessing the grounds.
A morgue list seen by AFP detailed 61 people killed in the attack, while 118 were injured, according to a government spokesman.
Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan which led the counter-operation, blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group, and said the counter-strike was over in three hours.
An emailed claim from the Pakistani Taliban, which shares close operational ties with LeJ, backed that assertion.
“This attack was carried (out on the instructions of) Mullah Daud Mansour, close ally of Hakimullah Mehsud and head of Pakistani Taliban in Karachi,” it said, adding that four fighters took part.
It said the attack was revenge for the deaths of its fighters “outside jails” in Punjab province, in an apparent reference to the recent surge in extrajudicial killings of LeJ fighters.
The Islamic State group also made a claim via Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and released a picture of what it said were the three attackers.
LeJ officially pledges allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the IS group’s major rival. But the dual claims could be evidence of new linkages that remain unofficial, analysts say.
“Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s claim seems to carry more weightage but IS has released photographs of the militants and this link between LeJ and IS will be determined in the coming days,” said analyst Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a thinktank.
Pakistan’s top military and intelligence command, including army chief Raheel Sharif, attended an official funeral ceremony for the victims, whose bodies were laid in coffins draped in white and borne by soldiers in dress uniform.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later flew to Quetta to chair a high-level security meeting, while Washington condemned the “cowardly attack.”
“The United States stands with the people of Pakistan and reiterates our commitment to support the government of Pakistan in its efforts to end the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism and to promote peace, security and stability in the region,” said a White House spokesman.
The compound remained sealed to journalists while weeping relatives were sent to the main hospital, where citizens rushed to donate blood.— AFP