Pakistan police targeted as attacks kill 24
Thursday, 15 October 2009

Militants launched a string of attacks on police in Lahore in the Pakistani heartland and in the troubled northwest on Thursday, killing 24 people after a week of violence in which more than 100 people died.

An exchange of gunfire was continuing at an elite police academy in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, where two policemen were killed.

The attacks in Lahore, near the border with India, and a car bomb in Kohat in the northwest come ahead of an expected military offensive against the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold on the Afghan border.

The violence, coming days after a daring raid on the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, underscored the risk posed by militants to Punjab, Pakistan's most economically important province and the country's traditional seat of power.

"First the (North West) Fontier province was on the front line, now they are playing their games in Punjab," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Geo television.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is under pressure from the United States to crack down on Islamic militancy as President Barack Obama considers a huge boost in troop numbers fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.

"There was an attack at three places," senior Lahore administration official Sajjad Bhutta told Dawn television. "In two places, the situation is under control."

Seven people were killed when gunmen attacked a regional headquarters of the police's Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore.

One of the dead was a gunman and at least four were police officials, police said, adding that the building had been cleared of attackers.

A suicide car-bomber attacked the same FIA building in Lahore in March last year killing 21 people.

Gunmen also attacked two police training centers in Lahore, one of them a training school attacked this year and the other the police academy.

Six policemen and four gunmen were killed at the Manawa training center, said city police chief, Pervez Rathore. Three of the attackers, who were clad in black, blew themselves up, he said.

Two policemen were killed at the academy and an exchange of fire was going on, security officials said.

Police said there were reports that three women were among the attackers while media said the gunmen could be holding hostages there.

The attacks in Lahore spread fear and sirens from police and other emergency vehicles wailed over the city.

The escalating violence has unnerved investors in Pakistani stocks, but on Thursday the main index was 0.44 percent up at 9,848.00 at 0650 GMT.

"The market is sort of used to terror attacks," said Mohammed Sohail, chief executive at brokers Topline Securities. "These high-profile targets are a concern, but investors are optimistic that eventually the Waziristan operation will take place and the terrorists will be attacked."


Shortly before the attacks in Lahore, a suicide car bomber set off his explosives outside a police station in Kohat killing 10 people, police and military officials said.

Pakistan's government has said a ground offensive against an estimated 10,000 hard core Taliban is imminent in South Waziristan.

The government says most attacks in the country are plotted in South Waziristan and carried out by Taliban, often with the help of allies from militant groups based in Punjab province.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the recent attacks, including the brazen assault on the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, and vowed more in revenge for the killing of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a US missile strike in August.

The government in June ordered the army to launch an offensive in South Waziristan. Since then the military has been conducting air and artillery strikes to soften up the militants' defenses.

The government says the assault is imminent but it will be up to the army to decide when to send in ground troops.

Separately, a US drone aircraft fired two missiles at a house in the North Waziristan region, killing four Afghan Taliban militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The owner of the house, 3 km (2 miles) north of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, was a member of an Afghan faction led by veteran Afghan militant commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose men attack foreign forces in eastern Afghanistan.

The United States, struggling with an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan and frustrated with Pakistan's failure to eliminate Taliban sanctuaries on its side of the border, stepped up attacks by its drones in September last year.

Hundreds of people, most of them militants but including some civilians, have been killed.


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