Militant group affiliated with Pakistani Taliban
QUETTA, Pakistan: Heavily-armed Islamist militants, linked to the Pakistani Taliban, stormed a Pakistan police academy, killing at least 60 people and wounding 118, officials said Tuesday. It was one of the deadliest extremist attacks this year.
Three gunmen wearing suicide vests burst into the Balochistan Police College, around 20 kilometers east of provincial capital Quetta, at around 11:10 p.m. local time, 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.”
Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of Balochistan province, told reporters that the first targeted the watchtower sentry, and after exchanging fire, killed him and were able to enter the academy grounds.
Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan, which led the counter-operation, said “the attack was over in around three hours after we arrived”.
He added that communications intercepts showed the militants belonged to the Al-Alimi faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group — which is affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban.
“They were in communication with operatives in Afghanistan,” he said. The group itself has not claimed the attack.
The area was plunged into darkness when the counter-offensive was launched, while security personnel threw up a cordon and ambulances zoomed in and out, taking the injured to hospitals. Military helicopters circled overhead.
As the battle continued, police and civil administration officials at the site told AFP they had heard several loud blasts.
Mineral-rich but impoverished Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, is beset by sectarian strife, Islamist violence and an on-off separatist insurgency that has lasted for decades.
The army has also repeatedly been accused by international rights groups of abuses in Balochistan, particularly against nationalists demanding autonomy and a greater share of the region’s resources.
In August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by the Islamic State group and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban killed 73 people, including many of the city’s lawyer community who had gone there to mourn the fatal shooting of a colleague.
Pakistan has been battling an Islamist insurgency since shortly after it decided to ally with the US following its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Monday night’s attack came a day after separatist gunmen for the Baloch Liberation Army on a motorcycle shot dead two coast guards and a civilian and wounded a shopkeeper in a remote southwest coastal town in the same province.
Balochistan is also a key region for China’s ambitious $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project linking its western province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan.
Security problems have mired CPEC in the past with numerous separatist attacks, but China has said it is confident the Pakistani military is in control.