Heavily armed terrorists on Monday gunned down at least 22 policemen, including eight officers, and injured 90 others as they stormed into police training centre near Lahore, barely a month after the brazen attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in this city.
Lobbing grenades and opening indiscriminate fire, the terrorists, said to number between 10 and 16, struck the academy as trainees prepared for the morning drill, killing guards at the gate and later holed up inside with hostages.
Authorities clamped curfew, called in the Army and paramilitary rangers who along with police laid a siege to the sprawling complex where an estimated 800 unarmed policemen were present.
Helicopters and armoured carriers were deployed by the security forces to monitor the situation inside, which authorities described as a hostage crisis.
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said the suspicion in the attack was on Lashker-e-Taiba and Jaish-e Mohammad as intermittent firing and sounds of explosions continued to emanate from the centre.
While Malik said the attack bore resemblance to the Mumbai terror strikes, former Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub said it “is similar to the one on the Sri Lankan team”.
“It is the same type of people and same style of operation,” he said.
Prior to the attack, which started between 7-8 a m, a series of at least five blasts were heard at the training centre at Manawan, located near the Wagah land border.
The explosions were followed by an exchange of fire between the attackers and policemen that continued for over two hours.
Most of the casualties occurred near the gate of the centre when the terrorists lobbed several grenades as they launched their attack and then fired indiscriminately.
Deputy Inspector General (Investigation) Mushtaq Sukhera told PTI that 850 recruits were present in the centre at the time of the attack.
Policemen and Pakistan Rangers, including snipers, had taken up positions on rooftops of buildings adjacent to the centre, Sukhera said.
Lahore Police Commissioner Azam Suleman said 34 people have been admitted to the hospital.
“I cannot say anything about the number of dead and do not want to speculate anything. It is an emergency situation right now,” he said.
An emergency was declared in all hospitals in Lahore and a red alert was sounded in the city.
Eyewitnesses, who escaped the carnage said that militants clad in police uniforms and carrying backpacks, had entered the training centre and took up positions in several buildings and exchanged fire with the security forces.
M Latif, a recruit who escaped from the centre with a dozen colleagues, told PTI the policemen were busy training when the terrorists stormed the centre and threw grenades and opened fire.
A visibly shaken Latif said many recruits, all of whom who were unarmed, were still inside the centre.
Another recruit named Jehangir, who was injured, said he had seen about eight terrorists enter the centre and spray bullets at policemen. “A number of my colleagues fell as they were hit by bullets. Then blasts occurred. Everyone was running for their lives and I was hit by a bullet in my left arm,” he said.
Hundreds of policemen, including members of an elite anti-terrorism squad, surrounded the centre and cordoned off the nearby area. Police also fired teargas at the attackers as helicopters were used for aerial surveillance.
Dramatic footage aired by TV channels showed bodies of several policemen strewn across the ground. Dozens of policemen scaled a wall to escape from within the centre.
Police used armoured vehicles to bring the dead and injured out of the centre after rescue workers were unable to approach them because of the firing.
Lahore has witnessed several terrorist attacks since last year, including an assault on Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3 that left eight persons dead and over 20 injured. Suicide bombers also struck at the Federal Investigation Agency office and a naval college in Lahore last year.