Militants storm Pakistani police centre

Militants holed up in a police training centre in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday after storming the building, with estimates of the dead ranging up to 20.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said 52 police were wounded in the attack but gave no word on the number killed, while Geo News television channel said the toll was 20.

Paramilitary troops laid siege, firing from rooftops of surrounding buildings, while the gunmen returned fire and threw grenades to keep the police at bay.

“Our elite squad has surrounded the area. God willing, now we will get into the building,” Mushtaq Sukhera, senior police official told journalists at the scene.

“I have counted 12 bodies but I dont know exactly how many have been killed,” Mohammad Raza, another police officer said.

One wounded policeman said there were 15 to 20 gunmen in the building. It was unclear if any police were being held hostage.

The assault came less than a month after a dozen gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the city, killing six police guards and a bus driver.
Those gunmen escaped.

The latest brazen attack will inevitably heighten fears about the mounting insecurity in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Islamist militants have launched a campaign of violence to destabilise the Muslim state of 170 million people, and the one-year-old civilian government’s ability to meet the challenge.

United States President Barack Obama made support for President Asif Ali Zardari’s government a centrepiece of a review of policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan that was announced on Friday, and which made annihilation of al -Qaeda the United States’ principle objective.

Attacked during morning drill
Police official Sukhera said about 850 young cadets attended the training centre but police were unsure how many were inside at the time of the attack, which began at about 7am local time.

Television channels said several hundred trainees were at the centre when the attackers, some dressed as policemen, struck.

“Some gunmen entered the centre, threw hand grenades and then started firing,” said an intelligence agency official who declined to be identified.

About 15 to 20 attackers were believed to be inside the training centre, a policeman told Geo News television channel while having his head bandaged.

The training centre is on the outskirts of the city, on the road to the nearby border with India.

“The gunmen attacked police recruits from four sides when they were doing their routine morning drills,” said a police officer at the scene.

A police armoured personnel carrier (APC) entered the compound and an exchange of fire, including what appeared to be a grenade explosion, broke out, a Reuters photographer at the scene said. The APC then withdrew.

One television station showed pictures of about a dozen police lying on a parade ground. Some appeared to be lifeless while others were crawling to cover.

An army helicopter circled overhead, and police and soldiers were seen carrying wounded to ambulances.

Militant violence has surged in Pakistan since mid-2007, with numerous attacks on the security forces and government and Western targets.

Most of the violence has been in the north-west, in areas along the Afghan border, but there have been attacks in all main cities.

Despite the violence in Lahore, Pakistani stocks and the rupee were both firmer in early trade. - Reuters

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