The head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, said yesterday his group had carried out an attack on a police academy in the eastern city of Lahore the previous day.
Eight cadets were killed and scores wounded in the brazen assault that came less than a month after a dozen gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s cricket team in the city, killing six police guards and a bus driver.
Four militants were killed and three arrested during an eight-hour long gun battle with security forces in the police academy.
“Yes, we have carried out this attack. I will give details later,” Mehsud, an al-Qaeda-linked leader based in the lawless Waziristan tribal region, said by telephone.
Mehsud leads the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or Movement of Taliban, Pakistan, a loose umbrella group of factions that has carried out attacks across the country, mainly in the northwest.
Pakistani Taliban also have links with Afghan Taliban and send fighters across the border to fight Western forces there.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Monday said the militants involved in Monday’s attack were believed to be fighters loyal to Mehsud and had come from his power base in South Waziristan, a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and the Taliban militants.
Pakistan questioned four suspects including an Afghan captured during the siege.
“Police and other intelligence agencies are interrogating the suspects. We cannot say anything for now about which group is involved,” Lahore city police chief Habib-ur Rehman said.
Authorities have spearheaded a top-level investigation.
Malik talked about possible “foreign hands” yesterday. The attack took place near the border with India.
“Terrorists are coming from FATA [the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. They get help from across the border,” he said.
“Where do they get weapons and new vehicles?” he asked.
Mourners gathered for funeral prayers for seven of the dead at a police building in downtown Lahore yesterday.
The coffins, wrapped in Pakistani flags and sheets inscribed with Koranic verses, were lined up under a canopy.
Police, who have been widely criticized as the “soft” target for extremists attacking the security forces in Pakistan, enforced heavy security for the funerals and armed commandos deployed on rooftops around the building.
The attack came days after US President Barack Obama made support for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s government a centerpiece of a security review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The heavily armed militants rampaged through the sprawling police complex on the outskirts of Lahore, near the border with India, for eight hours before they were overpowered in a joint operation by the army, paramilitary rangers and a crack police squad.
Three of the militants blew themselves up during the final assault and commandos rescued 10 police being held hostage inside the main academy building.
Police instructor Mohammad Iqbal, lying in hospital with head and spinal injuries, speculated that the attack was to avenge a Pakistani security operation against radicals holed up in an Islamabad mosque in July 2007.
“What I vividly remember is that they kept hurling grenades and fired from the second floor of the building, where they later got trapped, and every time they shouted Allahu akbar [God is great],” he said.