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31 Mar 2009 10:28
Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud said on Tuesday his group had carried out an assault on a police academy in the city of Lahore in retaliation for United States drone attacks on militants in Pakistan.
He also suggested a bounty put on his head by the US could be avenged by an attack in Washington.
Eight cadets were killed and scores wounded in the brazen assault that 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.
Four militants were killed and three were arrested during an eight-hour gunbattle with security forces in the police academy on Monday.
“We wholeheartedly take responsibility for this attack and will carry out more such attacks in future,” Mehsud, an al-Qaeda-linked leader based in the Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, told Reuters by telephone.
“It’s revenge for the drone attacks in Pakistan.”
Mehsud leads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Movement of Taliban Pakistan, a loose umbrella group of factions that has carried out attacks across the country, mainly in the northwest.
Authorities have accused him of being behind a string of attacks in Pakistan including the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.
Pakistani Taliban also have links with Afghan Taliban and send fighters across the border to fight Western forces in Afghanistan.
The US last week announced a $5-million reward for information leading to the location or arrest of Mehsud.
Frustrated over Pakistan’s inability to stem growing cross-border attacks by militants into Afghanistan, the US has carried out a series of missile attacks by pilotless drones on militant targets in northwestern Pakistan.
“More attacks in US”
Mehsud shrugged off the US bounty on his head, saying his militants would continue their attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan and could even mount attacks in the US.
“You can’t imagine how we could avenge this threat inside Washington, inside the White House,” he said.
US President Barack Obama announced on Friday the findings of a policy review towards Afghanistan and Pakistan with the elimination of al-Qaeda in the two countries the principle objective of his strategy.
Obama also made support for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s government a centrepiece of his policies.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said on Monday the militants behind the attack in Lahore were believed to be fighters loyal to Mehsud and had come from his powerbase in South Waziristan.
Malik said one of the men captured was an Afghan who had arrived in Lahore 15 days ago and rented a house.
Militant violence has surged in Pakistan since mid-2007, with attacks on security forces, government and Western targets, severely testing the year-old civilian government.
The militants rampaged through the police training centre on the outskirts of Lahore, near the border with India, for eight hours before they were overpowered in a joint operation by the army, paramilitary rangers and a crack police squad.
Three of the militants blew themselves up during the final assault, and commandos rescued 10 police being held hostage.
Officials said 89 policemen were wounded.—Reuters
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