Taliban militants kill nine Pak policemen in Lahore

Lahore: A group of heavily armed Taliban militants today gunned down nine policemen and injured as many in this eastern Pakistani city after storming a building where dozens of security personnel were living. The militants came to the densely populated neighbourhood of Ichra early this morning in a car and three motorcycles and burst into the building after killing a lone policeman who was deployed outside.

"Nine policemen were killed in the attack," Punjab Police chief Haji Habib-ur-Rehman told reporters at the scene of the attack. Lahore city police chief Aslam Tareen said nine others were injured. Rehman said the attack was carried out by a group of about 10 militants. This was the second major attack on Pakistani security forces since the government reopened NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

On Monday, seven soldiers and a policeman were killed when Taliban fighters attacked a Pakistan Army camp near Gujrat city. A total of 37 policemen from the prison department of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the northwest were living in the building. They had come to Lahore for training at the National Academy for Prison Administration. "The attackers killed a policeman who was guarding the building`s entrance. They split into three groups and went through three floors, attacking others who were sleeping," Rehman said.

The militants were armed with assault rifles, pistols and grenades. Officials said they had called in the bomb disposal squad to defuse a grenade that failed to explode. The banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the media that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the "torture" of Taliban fighters in prisons in Punjab. Ehsan threatened more attacks in future.

"The police should remember that they were unable to avoid our attack. We have information and there is no place our men can`t reach," he claimed. A policeman who survived the attack said the attackers shouted "Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) as they rampaged through the building. He said some 10 militants entered the building at around 6am and fired indiscriminately. Eight policemen were killed instantly and one died in hospital, survivors said.

"I heard firing and shouts of `Allah-o-Akbar`," said Abdul Khaliq, a trainee jail warden. "Three of my colleagues and I were present in a room next to one that was attacked by the terrorists. We were lucky that they did not break into our room," a terrified Khaliq told PTI. "If we had weapons, we would have responded to the attack," he said. The local police had not provided the trainee wardens with security, he added.

Muhammad Ishtiaq, an eyewitness, said: "I was sleeping on the rooftop of my house when I woke up to the sound of shots. When I looked down, I saw two masked men standing near a car in the street. Hardly a minute or two later, they were joined by another eight men and they fled in a car and some motorcycles." Ishtiaq said people started gathering on the street soon after the incident and he too joined them.

"A few of us went to the first and second floors of the building attacked by the terrorists. Several persons were lying in pools of blood and the survivors were crying." Footage on television showed policemen breaking down and crying as rescue workers removed the bodies of their dead colleagues from the building. Punjab Police chief Rehman did not rule out the possibility that today`s attack was linked to the assault on a Pakistan Army camp near Gujrat city on Monday.

"The incident in Gujrat and this one were acts of terrorism. There is a likelihood that the same gang is involved," he said. Rehman pointed out that militants had warned they would carry out attacks following the Pakistan government`s decision to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. In both the attacks on the army camp near Gujrat and the building in Lahore today, the militants had come to the spot in a Suzuki Cultus car and motorcycles, police said.

Another police officer, who did not wished to be named, said: "The terrorists had been watching the activities of trainee jail wardens for some time. The attack shows that the terrorists knew the exact location where the trainees were living in a thickly populated area." The officer did not rule out the possibility that the attackers were accomplices of militants currently detained in jails in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.