Eight-hour siege of Lahore police academy ends, 27 trainees die

March 30th, 2009 - 10:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Lahore, March 30 (IANS) A group of heavily armed terrorists Monday stormed a police training academy near here, killing at least 27 trainees and taking over 800 hostage before the security forces ended the brazen eight-hour stand-off. Eight terrorists were killed and three were captured alive.

The casualties among the trainees could rise as bodies were still being brought out of the Manawan police academy on the outskirts of this Pakistani city, and just 12 km from the Wagah border.

Eyewitness accounts put the number of attackers at between 10 and 12, and said some of them donned police uniforms.

According to Punjab Home Secretary Rao Iftikhar, eight terrorists, including two who blew themselves up, were killed.

“The operation has been concluded. We worked to a set plan,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Indian TV news channels soon after the all-clear from the security forces Monday afternoon. He explained how the main building of the complex was secured.

The security forces, comprising commandos of the Pakistan Rangers and the Punjab police, “first pushed the attackers to the first floor of the building, then to the second and then to the roof, where they were neutralised”, Malik said.

“We worked according to a SOP (standard operating procedure) and everyone in the security chain from the Lahore corps commander downwards was involved.”

According to Malik, 52 police personnel were injured during the operation.

As the operation finally came to an end, the security forces on the roof of the academy fired in the air in jubilation and cried “Allah-o Akbar”.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani commended the security forces on successfully retaking control of the police training centre.

Geo TV reported that an armed man who was walking towards helicopters that had landed in a village close to the police complex was overpowered and arrested. Two hand grenades were recovered from him.

Some officials identified him as an Afghan national.

The terrorists stormed the police academy at 7.20 a.m. when hundreds of police recruits were taking part in their usual morning parade.

The attackers first threw a grenade and then hurled many more, taking by surprise the mostly unarmed policemen and the few armed security personnel.

In no time, the terrorists scaled the walls of the sprawling academy and made their way inside, firing away. Several police trainees were killed instantly.

What happened next is not very clear. But Pakistani media reported that the attackers, who appeared to know the building’s layout, took control of the complex, taking a large number of police personnel hostage.

But many other policemen managed to crawl to the main gate and escaped, alerting the authorities about the extent of the attack, which followed the March 3 strike on Sri Lankan cricketers.

Pakistan rushed reinforcements, sparking fierce gun battles. But it still took nearly eight hours to capture three terrorists, including an Afghan.

Helicopters hovered overhead as crack assault teams and snipers took up positions at the training centre.

An injured police trainee told Geo TV what happened in the morning: “A grenade was lobbed at the parade ground from outside. Then seven to eight more grenades were thrown. They (the attackers) then entered the area and started firing indiscriminately at us. This continued for 20 minutes.”

“We lay low on the ground and crawled towards the main gate. We were rescued from there.”

Television footage showed bodies of policemen on the parade ground. But the security forces had difficulty in identifying the attackers as they were wearing blue and khaki police uniforms, DPA said.

Malik termed the assault an attack on Pakistan and appealed for unity across the spectrum.

“This was an attack on Pakistan. In the face of this, we have to show unity, like we did in 1965. I appeal to everyone: Come, let’s join hands.”

The reference was to the 1965 subcontinental war when Indian forces had managed to penetrate till the Ichhogil Canal that flows along the eastern side of Lahore.

Malik said he had constituted a three-member team to probe the assault and had asked for a report in three days.

Asked whether he saw a foreign hand in the Lahore assault, Malik said there was a “probability”.

“We have proved that we are capable of handling such situations. At the same time, we have to enhance our capabilities by equipping our security forces with modern gadgetry.”

Earlier Monday, Malik told Geo TV that the assault on the police academy was similar to the November 2008 Mumbai carnage that left more than 170 people dead.

“This is an attack on the country by forces which do not want to see Pakistan stable,” he said. “There should be unity at the political level and all levels.”

Pakistan had been hit by a “wave of terrorism”, he said, adding the attackers were trained and had “used terror as a weapon”.

Malik also admitted that the police training centre was not secure and that its buildings were not designed to cope with terror strikes. “New buildings will have enhanced security.”

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