Lahore: Militants unleashed coordinated attacks on Pakistani police in which 26 people died on Thursday, storming offices in Lahore and bombing a northwest station to escalate 11 days of carnage.
The sophisticated assaults underscored the weakness of security forces seemingly unable to stop thwart high-profile attacks in the heart of Pakistan, despite promises of a new offensive against the Taliban near the Afghan border.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan and is a key ally in the US-led fight against terror, is reeling from Taliban-linked attacks in which at least 149 people have died since 5 October.
More than 20 gunmen stormed a commando academy in Bedian, on the outskirts of Lahore, a police school in the suburb of Manawan and the city branch of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) before security forces wrested back control.
Pakistan’s weak civilian government said the country was facing a new war after a slew of militant attacks in the country’s political heartland of Punjab, away from the hotbed of insurgency in the northwest tribal region.
“They are involved in guerrilla war. First they were active in NWFP (North West Frontier Province), now they are engaged in Punjab. They are terrorists paid to destabilize Pakistan,” interior minister Rehman Malik told reporters.
Security officials said 10 attackers were either shot dead or blew themselves up in the attacks around Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital, and that they were investigating reports that women were among the assailants.
Lahore city police chief Pervez Rathor said four attackers died at Manawan, and one assailant and six security officials perished at the FIA.
The siege at Bedian dragged on around four hours before the army announced it was in full control. A senior commander said five attackers were either shot dead or blew themselves up.
“The situation inside Bedian centre is completely under control,” said Major General Shafqat Ahmad, the top military commander in the eastern city.
The commander denied that the gunmen had taken hostages during the siege, but said mothers and wives who lived on the academy grounds may have themselves locked doors and hunkered down during the exchanges of fire.
US President Barack Obama is poised to sign a bill giving $7.5 billion to build schools, roads and democratic institutions in Pakistan as part of a strategy to discredit extremists in the nation and in Afghanistan.
Thursday’s attacks underscored poor police security. The training center at Manawan was attacked on 30 March. Eight police recruits died before security forces finally overpowered the multi-pronged assault after nearly eight hours.
The FIA building in Lahore was bombed in March 2008, killing 16 people.
In the northwest town of Kohat near Peshawar, regional police chief Abdullah Khan said 10 people were killed on Thursday.
“It was a van suicide attack,” Khan told AFP. Police said the bomber rammed his vehicle into the outer wall of the police station in Kohat and that the building was badly damaged.
Tens of thousands of people have fled the lawless tribal region ahead of an expected army offensive. Warplanes are pounding Taliban positions and a US missile strike killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban in August.
At least 52 civilians were killed on Friday last week when a suicide bomber blew up his car in a packed market in Peshawar.
The following day, Taliban-linked gunmen staged an audacious raid on army headquarters near Islamabad with 23 people killed in a day-long siege that also saw 39 hostages freed by commando troops.
After the militants’ brazen headquarters assault, speculation has intensified that the military is preparing to go into the militant stronghold of South Warizistan, months after the government promised a ground operation.
On Thursday, a US drone missile attack on a suspected militant hideout in remote North Waziristan killed at least four people, security officials said.
The pre-dawn strike targeted the suspected militant compound in Dandey Darpa Khel near the Afghan border, a security official said.