QUETTA: The country on Tuesday mourned the killing of at least 61 people in a brutal gun and suicide bomb assault on a police academy, the deadliest attack on a security installation in the country’s history.
Three masked gunmen burst into the sprawling academy in the southwest, pretending to be soldiers as they targeted sleeping quarters home to some 700 recruits in a strike that sent terrified young men fleeing.
“They... knocked at the locked rooms and told the cadets that they were from the army, and when they opened the doors, they fired at them,” a 22-year-old cadet namely Hikmatullah told AFP from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to the left shoulder.
The attack on the Balochistan Police College, around 20 kilometres east of Quetta, began around 11:10pm on Monday, with gunfire continuing for several hours.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti told reporters the attackers first killed a tower sentry before accessing the grounds. A morgue list seen by AFP listed 61 people were killed in the attack, while 118 were injured, according to a government spokesman.
Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General Major General Sher Afgan blamed the attack on the Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and said the counter-strike was over in three hours. Talking to the media with Sarfaraz Bugti, he said that communication intercepts showed the attack was carried out by Al-Alimi faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ). “The operation needed to be conducted with precision, therefore it took us four hours to clear the area completely.”
“There were three terrorists and all of them were wearing suicide vests,” he said. “Two suicide attackers blew themselves up, which resulted in casualties, while the third one was shot dead by our troops.” He added that the militants had been communicating with their handlers in Afghanistan.
An emailed claim from the Taliban, which shares close operational ties with the LeJ, backed that assertion. “This attack was carried (out on the instructions of) Mullah Daud Mansour, close ally of Hakimullah Mehsud and head of Pakistani Taliban in Karachi,” it said, adding four fighters took part.
“This was to avenge the killing of those of our Mujahideen who were killed indiscriminately (in fake encounters) outside jails in Punjab,” it said in an apparent reference to the recent surge in extra-judicial executions of LeJ fighters.
The Islamic State group also made a claim via Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and released a picture of what it said were the three attackers.