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Pakistanis glued to TV amid dramatic coverage of army HQ siege

People across Pakistan remained glued to their TV sets overnight, watching dramatic coverage of the terrorist siege of a military building that ended on Sunday morning with an assault by commandos that freed 42 hostages.

world Updated: Oct 11, 2009 18:18 IST

People across Pakistan remained glued to their TV sets overnight, watching dramatic coverage of the terrorist siege of a military building that ended on Sunday morning with an assault by commandos that freed 42 hostages.

The coverage by news channels of the terrorist attack on the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was eerily reminiscent of the media frenzy witnessed during last year's attacks in Mumbai, with reporters providing a blow-by-blow account of the operation against the gunmen.

The coverage began after a group of terrorists attempted to storm the army headquarters yesterday morning, triggering a fierce gun battle that killed six soldiers and five attackers. The remaining terrorists took over an office of the Military Intelligence agency and took dozens of hostages, including senior officers.

The siege ended when commandos of the elite Special Service Group assaulted the building at 6 am, killing four terrorists and capturing a fifth. Forty-two hostages were freed while three died in firing by terrorists. Two commandos were also killed in the operation.

Throughout the siege, people tuned into Pakistani and international channels like BBC, CNN, Sky News and Al-Jazeera to keep abreast of the latest developments.

The Pakistani channels devoted almost their entire news bulletins to the hostage drama and dozens of journalists and camera crews spent the night outside the heavily fortified military compound in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The Pakistani military, however, kept the media a safe distance away from the building that had been taken over by the terrorists and maintained a tight check on information that was released to journalists, apparently due to concerns that the accomplices of the terrorists could be monitoring news broadcasts to glean information about steps being taken by authorities.

Three news channels - Geo, ARY and Samaa - were briefly taken off the air due to their coverage of sensitive aspects of the operations being carried out by security forces but returned to cable networks late in the evening.

The TV coverage was dominated by live footage from the scene of the attack, interviews with defence and security experts, witnesses and politicians and special talk shows.

The brazen terrorist attack on the General Headquarters, possibly the best-guarded compound in the whole of Pakistan, also dominated the front pages of most newspapers.

"Terrorists strike at army's heart," said a bold headline in red in The News daily while the headline in the influential Dawn newspaper was: "Audacious attack rocks GHQ".

Zubair Malik, a resident of Islamabad, said: "Terrorists made a cowardly attempt to inflict harm on our armed forces, who are fully prepared to take on these elements with the cooperation of the nation and the media.

"Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas too lauded the media coverage of the attack, saying he had spoken to the Information Minister and other authorities to remove restrictions that were imposed on some channels, as the army had no objections about their reportage.