QUETTA (AFP, REUTERS) - At least 59 people were killed and 117 wounded in an overnight raid by militants on a police academy in south-west Pakistan, officials said on Tuesday (Oct 25), after declaring a military counter-operation was finished.
The attack on the Balochistan Police College, located 20 kilometres east of provincial capital Quetta, began at around 11:10pm on Monday (Oct 24; 2.10am Singapore time on Tuesday), with gunfire continuing to ring out from the site hours later.
He added that the militants belonged to the Al-Alimi faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group – which is affiliated with the Pakistani Taleban.
Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti, the home minister of Balochistan province, told reporters assembled at the site early on Tuesday that the sprawling compound had been attacked by three militants equipped with suicide jackets, revising down an earlier estimate of “five to six” assailants.
“They first targeted the watch tower sentry, and after exchanging fire killed him and were able to enter the academy grounds,” he said.
Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan, which led the counter-operation, said “the attack was over in around three hours after we arrived.”
“They were in communication with operatives in Afghanistan,” he said.
The group itself has not claimed the attack.
Mr Bugti said the compound was housing some 700 recruits at the time of the attack, hundreds of whom were rescued.
Police, military and paramilitary personnel arrived at the training centre within 20 minutes of the attack and launched an operation which last around five hours, the home ministry said.
The area was plunged into darkness when the counter-offensive was launched, while security personnel created a cordon and ambulances zoomed in and out, taking the injured to hospitals. Military helicopters circled overhead.
As the battle continued, police and civil administration officials at the site said they had heard several loud blasts.
A man who identified himself as a police cadet told reporters: “I saw three men in camouflage whose faces were hidden carrying Kalashnikovs. They started firing and entered the dormitory but I managed to escape over a wall.”
A Reuters photographer at the scene said authorities carried out the body of a teenage boy who they said was one of the attackers and had been shot dead by security forces.
Mineral-rich but impoverished Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, is beset by sectarian strife, Islamist violence and an on-off separatist insurgency that has lasted for decades.
The army has also repeatedly been accused by international rights groups of abuses in Balochistan, particularly against nationalists demanding autonomy and a greater share of the region’s resources.
In August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taleban killed 73 people, including many of the city’s lawyer community who had gone there to mourn the fatal shooting of a colleague.
Pakistan has been battling an Islamist insurgency since shortly after it decided to ally with the US following its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Violence has declined in recent years following a series of military offensives in the north-west border areas as well as concerted efforts to block the militants’ sources of funding.
But the remnants of militant groups are still able to carry out periodic bloody attacks, particularly in the north-west.
Monday night’s attack also came a day after separatist gunmen for the Baloch Liberation Army on a motorcycle shot dead two coast guards and a civilian and wounded a shopkeeper in a remote south-west coastal town in the same province.
Balochistan is also a key region for China’s ambitious US$46 billion (S$64.14 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project linking its western province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan.
Security problems have mired CPEC in the past with numerous separatist attacks, but China has said it is confident the Pakistani military is in control.