Two dozen recruits may be dead and hundreds held hostage after a swift assault and hours-long siege.
By Mubashir Zaidi and Laura King, Los Angeles Times
2:37 AM PDT, March 30, 2009
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan and ISTANBUL, Turkey — In a chillingly methodical attack, gunmen in police uniforms today stormed a police training center in the eastern city of Lahore, reportedly killing up to two dozen recruits and holding hundreds hostage.
The hours-long siege was yet another sign of intensifying turmoil in Pakistan, considered a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic militants. President Obama declared last week that quelling the insurgency in Pakistan is key to Western success in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The assault, which began at about 8 a.m., was swift and sudden. Pakistani news reports cited witnesses as saying that the gunmen hit the lightly guarded police compound from several directions at once, hurling grenades and using automatic rifles to gun down police cadets who were drilling on the parade ground.
After a period of initial confusion, army and paramilitary troops were rushed in to lay siege to the academy, located on the city's outskirts near the Indian frontier. Dawn television reported that a helicopter was hit by assailants' gunfire as it ferried in troops, but managed to land safely.
About six hours into the fighting, estimates of the number of injured ranged up to 90. But many of the wounded were trapped inside as the battle raged around them.
At one point, the assailants appeared to repel an armored personnel carrier that tried to enter the compound. The provincial governor, Salman Taseer, described the chaotic events as a "total siege."
It was the second major insurgent attack within a month in Lahore, which was once considered a relatively quiet corner of the country. On March 3, six police guards and a bus driver were killed when gunmen attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team.
The attack was also reminiscent of November's onslaught in Mumbai, when teams of gunmen hit luxury hotels and other sites around India's commercial capital in a series of coordinated strikes, leaving nearly 170 people dead.
An injured policeman, speaking to reporters from his hospital bed in Lahore, described a similarly well-organized operation, almost military in its precision.
"A grenade hit the platoon next to ours," the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. "Then there was continuous firing for about 20 minutes… They wanted to do as much damage as possible."
Other police trainees described leaping from windows to escape, or scaling the compound's high walls.
Like so many modern-day disasters, this one unfolded almost entirely on live TV. Pakistanis were transfixed by images of the confrontation, which included images of dead police recruits lying on the ground inside the compound.
At least one of the suspected assailants was detained. TV footage showed the captured man lying prone on the ground, being kicked by police before they hauled him to his feet and led him away.
Click to view image: '631e50a06f42-45872534.gif'
|Liveleak on Facebook|