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Mon 30 Mar 2009 10:41 AM

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20 dead as gunmen storm Pakistan police academy

Gunmen battle with Pak security forces just weeks after targetting Sri Lankan cricket team.

Gunmen stormed a Pakistan police academy on Monday, triggering an intense battle with security forces that left at least 20 dead, weeks after a brazen assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team.Television footage showed bodies of policemen lying face down on the parade ground as heavy gunfire continued to rattle round the camp at Manawan outside Pakistan's cultural capital Lahore.

Paramilitary soldiers, armed and wearing flak jackets and helmets, opened fire and fanned out around the perimeter of the site, which was surrounded by scores of police cars and armoured vehicles, an AFP reporter said.

"The number of killed is at least 20," a police official, Amjad Ahmad, told AFP outside the compound, and dozens of wounded were rushed to hospitals.

Other police officers said the number of casualties could rise because of the heavy crossfire between the attackers holed up at the training centre and the paramilitary troops.

There were also television reports of hostages being taken, but that could not be confirmed.

Ahmad told AFP there were 10-12 "terrorists." He said half were in police uniform and half in civilian clothes.

He said they were armed with hand grenades and rifles, and killed security guards at a rear entrance.

Senior police official Azhar Nadeem said they were caught by surprise.

"It was a surprise attack and the initiative was in their hand. Police are reacting to that, and I hope that this stand-off will end soon," Nadeem told Express television.

The latest attack came weeks after a March 3 commando-style assault on Sri Lanka's touring cricket team by assailants armed with guns and grenades. They killed eight Pakistanis and wounded seven members of the squad.

Those attackers walked away unhindered by police, and authorities have not announced any high-profile arrest in connection with the assault, which has at least temporarily ended Pakistani chances of hosting international sport.

Officials said that assault bore the hallmarks of the November 2008 attack on the Indian financial capital of Mumbai, which was blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants and killed 165 people.

At Manawan, an AFP reporter saw one helicopter land inside the camp, while another landed a short distance away and a third flew overhead.

Kamran Ali, an official at the Lahore rescue department, said that some 60 wounded policemen had been moved to different hospitals in the city.

"We fear that the death toll may rise up to 50 or 60, because the attackers lobbed grenades on groups of policemen," Ali said.

Lahore is Pakistan's second largest city and capital of wheat-bowl Punjab province, which is also the country's political nerve centre.

Extremists opposed to the Pakistan government's decision to side with the United States in its "war on terror" have carried out a spate of bombings and other attacks that have killed nearly 1,700 people in less than two years.

Much of the unrest has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists.

On Friday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a packed mosque in Jamrud, a town in the northwest, killing around 50 people.

US officials say Pakistan's northwest has become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and have since regrouped to launch attacks on foreign troops across the border.

Such is the scale of extremist violence that US President Barack Obama has placed Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda, tripling US aid to the nuclear-armed nation as part of a new strategy that also commits billions of dollars and thousands more troops to the Afghan war.

Obama called Al-Qaeda and its allies "a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within" and urged Islamabad to demonstrate its commitment to eradicating extremists on its soil.

Kaptain 10 years ago

This is outrageous. This is not solving any political issues, but is revealing the weaker facts of the establishment. Although the elements would be known, but again would be put away with deliberate ignorance.