Islamic State claims attack on Quetta police academy
The Islamic State (IS) group on Tuesday claimed that its fighters attacked a police training college in the Quetta city of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, which left 61 dead and wounded over 118.
Hundreds of trainees were stationed at the facility when masked gunmen stormed the college on the outskirts of Quetta late Monday nignt. Some cadets were taken hostage during the raid, which lasted nearly five hours. Most of the dead were cadets.
“Militants directly barged into our barrack and started firing point blank. In not time, people were seen screaming and running around in the barrack,” one police cadet who survived told media.
Other cadets at the college spoke of jumping out of windows and cowering under beds as masked gunmen hunted them down. Video footage from inside one of the barracks showed blackened walls and rows of charred beds.
Islamic State’s Amaq news agency published news of the group claiming responsibility, saying three IS fighters “used machine guns and grenades, then blew up their explosive vests in the crowd”.
However, Pakistani officials had earlier said that another Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), was probably behind the raid.
Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of the province of Balochistan, said the gunmen attacked a dormitory in the training facility, while cadets rested and slept.
“Two attackers blew up themselves, while a third one was shot in the head by security men,” Bugti said. Earlier, officials had said there were five to six gunmen.
A photographer at the scene said authorities carried out the body of a teenaged boy, who they said was one of the attackers and had been shot by security forces.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Raheel Sharif travelled to Quetta to take stock of the situation.
One of the top military commanders in Balochistan, General Sher Afgun said calls intercepted between the attackers and their handlers suggested they were from the sectarian Sunni militant group, LeJ. “We came to know from the communication intercepts that there were three militants who were getting instructions from Afghanistan,” Afgun told media, adding that the Al Alami faction of LeJ was behind the attack.
LeJ, whose roots are in the Punjab province, has a history of carrying out sectarian attacks in Balochistan, particularly against the minority Hazara Shias. Pakistan has previously accused LeJ of colluding with al Qaeda.
Authorities had launched a crackdown against LeJ last year, particularly in Punjab province. In a major blow to the organisation, Malik Ishaq, the group’s leader, was killed in July 2015, alongside 13 members of the central leadership, in what the police say was a failed escape attempt.
“Two, three days ago, we received intelligence reports of a possible attack in Quetta city, that is why security was beefed up here, but they struck at the police training college,” Sanaullah Zehri, chief minister of Baluchistan, told the Geo TV.
Pakistan has improved its security situation in recent years but Islamist groups continue to pose a threat and stage major attacks in the mainly Muslim nation of 190 million.
The Islamic State (IS) has sought to make inroads over the past year, hoping to exploit the country’s growing sectarian divisions.
Monday night’s assault on the police college was the deadliest in Pakistan since a suicide bomber killed 70 people in an attack on mourners gathered at a hospital in Quetta in August.
The IS had claimed the August attack too. But a Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, had also claimed responsibility. The military had dismissed previous IS claims of responsibility and last month said it had crushed the Middle East-based group’s attempt to expand in Pakistan. It also dismissed previous IS claims of responsibility as ‘propaganda’.
Analysts say IS clearly has a presence in Pakistan and there is growing evidence that some local groups are working with IS. “The problem with this government is that it seems to be in a complete state of denial,” said Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst.
Hiding under beds
Wounded cadets spoke of scurrying for cover after being woken by the sound of bullets.
“I was asleep, my friends were there as well, and we took cover under the beds,” an unidentified cadet told Geo TV. “My friends were shot, but I only received a (small) wound on the head,” he added.
Another cadet said he did not have ammunition to fight back. Officals said the attackers targeted the centre’s hostel, where around 200 to 250 police recruits were resting. At least three explosions were reported at the scene by media.
Quetta has long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there.
Balochistan is no stranger to violence, with separatist fighters launching regular attacks on security forces for nearly a decade and the military striking back.
Militants, particularly sectarian groups, have also launched a campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations of minority Shias.
Attacks are becoming rarer but security forces need to be more alert, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan warned.
“Our problem is that when an attack happens, we are alert for a week after, ten days later, until 20
days pass, (but) then it goes back to business as usual,” he said. “We need to be alert all the time.”
Cop killed in Peshawar blast
A police constable guarding a polio vaccination team was killed and another injured in a bomb attack in Peshawar on Tuesday, police said.
The incident occurred in Daudzai area on the outskirts of Peshawar. SHO, Daudzai police station said the Superintendent of Police was near a school inspecting security measures when the bomb went off.
Poor security, mud wall blamed for attack
The Balochistan government on Tuesday came under attack over poor security arrangements at the police training academy, where more than 60 cadets were killed by Islamic State (IS) militants in a late-night assault. Senior security officials said the terrorists managed to enter the facility, that has been previously attacked twice, taking advantange of the the inadequate security arrangements.
Despite percieved security threats, the centre’s boundary wall was of mud and only five-feet high, officials said. They said security should have been enhanced since the facility was located in one of Quetta’s sensitive areas. On September 6, Inspector General Police Balochistan, Ahsan Mehboob had requested Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri for the construction of a boundary wall for the academy.
Zehri had promised the construction of a wall. The attack, however, took place before the wall could be constructed. On Tuesday, he announced a three-day mourning in the province for those who lost their lives in the attack. Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif visited the police training academy where he reviewed the security situation and was briefed on the attack by officials.