ISLAMABAD – Gunmen in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta killed at least 59 people in a bloody assault on a police training camp, government officials said Tuesday, storming a dormitory of unarmed cadets in a shooting rampage before detonating explosive vests.
The assault – involving at least three attackers who also battled with paramilitary forces – is the latest blow by militants operating along the lawless border region with Afghanistan as Pakistan struggles to make gains against various insurgent factions.
It also was another direct strike at Pakistan’s powerful security forces. In September 2015, Taliban fighters stormed an airbase in Peshawar, another border hub northeast of Quetta, killing at least 29 people.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted online Tuesday. The militants’ Amaq news agency published a photo of what it said were the three attackers, all operatives of the group’s so-called Khorasan Province faction, which is active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But a senior security official said Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Pakistani extremist group that has targeted the country’s Shiite Hazara minority over the years, was responsible for the bloodshed, which also left more than 100 people injured. Many of the wounded remained in critical condition, meaning the toll could well rise.
Two officials, including Maj. Gen. Sher Afgan, who is chief of Pakistan’s paramilitary forces, said that the militants had either crossed over from Afghanistan or were in contact with handlers on the Afghan side of the border.
Pakistani authorities have blamed Afghan militants for attacks inside Pakistan in recent years, despite Pakistan’s own history of homegrown extremism.
Dozens of jihadists groups have emerged from the lawless border area between the two countries, and both sides are rife with militancy. Quetta, which is just 150 miles from the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, has long served as a staging ground for insurgent activities in Afghanistan, and is a base for Afghan leaders of the Taliban.
None of the officials gave any motive for the assault.
“First they tried to target the city, but due to a high security alert, they failed,” said Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, a spokesman for Baluchistan province, where Quetta is located.
“After that, they attacked the Police Training College,” he said. The college is less than 10 miles from central Quetta.
Security officials told local media that gunmen attacked a hostel inside the camp where cadets had retired for the night. Because the cadets were in training, they did not have their own weapons, one police official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that many of the cadets had completed their course, and were preparing to return home.
Also speaking to reporters Tuesday, Baluchistan Home Minister Mir Safraz Butgi said the gunmen killed a watchtower guard before slipping over the wall into the compound.
“I saw two gunmen firing as they ran toward us, toward our building,” a police cadet told Pakistan’s Geo News, a television station. “We got to the roof and jumped down to save our lives.”
Footage aired on Pakistani television showed ambulances streaming out of the camp’s main gate. Firefighters also rushed to the scene.
Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, in a statement early Tuesday, directed authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, and State Department spokesman John Kirby also condemned the attack.
Monday’s attack was the latest in a string of deadly attacks in Quetta. In August, a suicide attack on a group of lawyers killed more than 70 people, including most of the province’s practicing attorneys. The Islamic State also claimed that attack, along with other groups.
The lawyers had gathered in the emergency room of a local hospital to view the body of a slain colleague. The attacker detonated an explosive vest in the middle of the crowd.
Featured Image: Sky News
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Shaiq Hussain