x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Series of attacks rocks Pakistan

Militants unleash attacks in Pakistan leaving at least 40 people dead, escalating 11 days of carnage in the country.

Policemen inspect a damaged police station after a suicide blast in the town of Kohat, north-west Pakistan.
Policemen inspect a damaged police station after a suicide blast in the town of Kohat, north-west Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD // Militants unleashed attacks in Pakistan yesterday that left at least 40 people dead, storming police offices in Lahore and bombing targets in the north-west to escalate 11 days of carnage. At least 10 militants, 16 police and a civilian were killed in the ensuing gun battles in Lahore between militants and security officials. Dozens of police and civilians were wounded, security officials told Agence France-Presse.

Also timed to coincide with the Lahore attacks, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden vehicle into a police station in the north-western city of Kohat. Eleven people were killed, including three policemen, Fazal Naeem, a police spokesman, said. Later in the day, a car bomb ripped through a residential building for government employees in Peshawar, killing a child, officials said. The attacks in Lahore, also known as the cultural and artistic capital of the country and one of its safest cities, started around 9.20am.

The regional headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the chief Pakistani law enforcement agency, located on a busy commercial and governmental area, was the first facility to come under attack Thursday morning. Four agency officials and two civilians were killed after gunmen forced their way inside the building, according to Pervez Rathore, the Lahore police chief. Dozens of officials were stranded in the building as troops cordoned off the area and engaged the attackers. One militant was killed in that exchange. By late morning, officials managed to regain control of the building.

The synchronised attacks Thursday convulsed Pakistan, still reeling from five terrorist attacks in the last 10 days, and set off a wave of panic in different parts of Lahore. The attacks came just days after gunmen attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan army in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Pakistani officials have been bracing for terrorist attacks ever since plans to launch a military offensive in the tribal region of South Waziristan, the stronghold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, were made public.

The wave of attacks in the Pakistani cities appear to be an attempt by the militants to deter the impending operation, according to officials and analysts. Pakistan military spokesmen have been discussing a South Waziristan offensive for weeks and it is not clear what is delaying the operation. "The enemy has started a guerrilla war," Rehman Malik, the interior minister, told the Associated Press.

"The whole nation should be united against these handful of terrorists, and God willing we will defeat them," Mr Malik said. "The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is attempting to make bold shows of strength with this series of co-ordinated attacks in Lahore and Kohat. The TTP seeks to intimidate the Pakistani government and security forces before the promised military operations in South Waziristan," said Arif Rafiq, a political analyst based in Washington.

"The TTP's message to the Pakistani government is: 'If you hit us in our jugular, South Waziristan, we will strike you in your capital and Punjabi heartland.' The attacks demonstrate the extent to which jihadi groups inside Pakistan would like to prevent operations against them in South Waziristan. It shows how much South Waziristan means to them." A security official said that Hakimullah had a reputation of being an emotional and rash person. "He seems keen to use all of his resources at once," he said referring to the new leader of the TTP.

District and police officials in Lahore initially seemed caught off guard as news of multiple raids on different official buildings spread through the city, causing pandemonium and confusion. Police personnel were mobilised and rescue workers and ambulances rushed to the three attack sites. By midday, police announced that they had taken control of the situation and had repulsed the attacks, which they described as a "failure".

Chaudhry Shafique Gujjar, the senior superintendent of police operations in Lahore, commended the response of security officials, saying "One should look at the rapid response of the police." He was talking to reporters in Lahore. In the second attack, five people crossed the boundary wall of the headquarters and training centre of elite police commandos in Badian, on the outskirts of Lahore. Three women were also reported to be among the attackers, according to local media reports, but this was later denied by military officials.

The gunmen, mostly young men between the age group of 18 and 20 years, were quickly surrounded by security forces and army rangers who arrived at the scene in 20 lorries. Television footage showed soldiers taking positions outside of the commando training facility, which is surrounded by green fields and spread over several acres. Five militants were killed by the troops, Major Gen Shafqat Ahmed, the commander of the security forces in Lahore, said. No hostages were taken, he added.

Gen Ahmed said there were five attackers at the elite police facility. "They climbed over the boundary wall near the residential compounds at the backside of the training centre. One attacker was killed by elite force commandos while another detonated himself upon being spotted," he said. Three attackers then moved inside the residential compounds, raising fears of a hostage situation. But, according to Gen Ahmed, "ladies and children locked themselves inside, forcing three of them to climb on the rooftops". The standoff between the militants and security forces lasted for three hours before the attackers were killed.

In the third attack, at least seven policemen were killed at the Manawan police training centre, situated close to the Indian border. One militant, who was wearing a suicide jacket, was killed immediately, Mr Rathore, the police chief, said. Three other attackers detonated themselves. Locals gathered outside the Manawan police training centre and shouted slogans, urging the military to crush them. Manawan was also the scene of a terrorist attack earlier this year.

"The takfiri jihadis in Pakistan are increasingly adaptive and integrated across ethnic lines. But their viciousness has resulted in a marked loss in public support," Mr Rafiq, the political analyst, said. "The Pakistani public is now rallying around its security services and sees the attackers as traitors, not Islamic liberators. In fact, I would say we are witnessing in Pakistan a public backlash against militants similar to what occurred in Egypt against the al Gamaa al Islamiyya in the 1990s after the Luxor attacks," he said.

"The Pakistani government must utilise the growing public antipathy against the militants to gain preventive intelligence and root out militant cells before they can attack." foreign.desk@thenational.ae