QUETTA • Heavily armed militants who stormed a Pakistani police academy pretended to be soldiers to trick cadets hiding in their rooms into opening locked doors, said witnesses, as chilling accounts emerged from survivors of Monday's attack.
At least 60 people were killed after three gunmen burst into the sprawling academy, targeting the sleeping quarters of some 700 recruits in the deadliest attack on a security installation in Pakistan's history.
Young cadets who fled the gun and suicide bomb assault told of their terror as citizens from the provincial capital of Quetta, around 20km from the Balochistan Police College where the violence unfolded, rushed to donate blood.
Speaking from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a bullet wound to his left shoulder, cadet Hikmatullah, 22, said: "They entered the rooms one by one. They went in one room and fired inside it, then they went in another.
"They also knocked at the locked rooms and told the cadets that they were from the army, and when they (the cadets) opened the doors, they fired at them. They came in by jumping over the walls of the academy."
Militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) yesterday claimed responsibility for the attack. Its Amaq news agency said three ISIS fighters "used machine guns and grenades, then blew up their explosive vests in the crowd".
But Pakistani officials earlier said another Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), was probably behind the raid.
Mr Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, Home Minister of the province of Balochistan, whose capital is Quetta, said the gunmen attacked a dormitory in the training facility while the cadets rested and slept. "Two attackers blew themselves up, while a third one was shot in the head by security men," he said. Earlier, officials had said there were five to six gunmen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief, General Raheel Sharif, travelled to Quetta after the attack.
One of the top military commanders in Balochistan, General Sher Afgun, told the media that 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," he told the media, adding that the Al Alami faction of LeJ was behind the attack.
LeJ, whose roots are in the heartland Punjab province, has a history of carrying out sectarian attacks in Balochistan, particularly against the minority Hazara Shias.
"Two, three days ago, we had intelligence reports of a possible attack in Quetta city, that is why security was beefed up in Quetta, but they struck at the police training college," Mr Sanaullah Zehri, chief minister of Balochistan, told the Geo TV channel.
They entered the rooms one by one. They went in one room and fired inside it, then they went in another. They also knocked at the locked rooms and told the cadets that they were from the army, and when they (the cadets) opened the doors, they fired at them.
CADET HIKMATULLAH, 22, speaking from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a bullet wound to his left shoulder.
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.
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 attack was claimed by ISIS, but also by a Pakistani Taleban faction, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar.
Analysts say ISIS clearly has a presence in Pakistan and there is growing evidence that some local groups are working with ISIS.
"The problem with this government is that it seems to be in a complete state of denial," said Mr Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE