- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (AP) - Police appear to have captured one of the suspected gunmen in the attack on a police academy in Pakistan’s east.

An Associated Press photographer saw police take away a single suspect at the academy in Lahore.

Television footage also showed police and other security forces surrounding the bearded man and kicking him in a field outside the compound.

Security forces are engaged in a pitched battle with gunmen holed up inside the academy walls. Officials say the attack early Monday has killed at least 11 police officers and wounded more than 90 people.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.



LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani soldiers and other security forces surrounded a police academy Monday where heavily armed gunmen were holed up after storming the compound in a brazen attack that killed 11 officers and trapped others inside.

The assault, which underscores the growing threat militancy poses to the U.S.-allied, nuclear-armed country, came less than a month after an ambush on Sri Lanka’s visiting cricket team in the heart of Lahore.

Soldiers and other security forces battled gunmen for hours after the initial assault on the outskirts of the city. Television footage showed armored vehicles entering the compound after the early morning attack on officers. Some police tried to escape by crawling on their hands and knees around others’ limp bodies. More than 90 were wounded.

“It is a complete panic here,” officer Syed Ahmad Mobin told The Associated Press. “We are fighting them.”

Pakistan has endured scores of suicide bombings and other attacks in recent years, and it faces tremendous U.S. pressure to eradicate al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents on its soil. Most of the violence occurs along the country’s northwest border with Afghanistan, but attacks have occurred in all the major cities, including in eastern Punjab province.

The provincial governor, Salman Taseer, told reporters at a hospital that an army brigade had joined the fight to root out the gunmen believed to still be hiding inside the academy walls.

“They have laid a complete siege,” Taseer said, adding that a curfew was imposed in the neighborhood and that an estimated eight to 10 gunmen were believed involved. “They are surrounded.”

Lahore, a vibrant metropolis considered by many to be Pakistan’s cultural capital, seems to be an increasingly alluring target for militants. In early March, a group of gunmen ambushed the visiting cricket team in a crowded city traffic circle, sparking a battle that left six police officers and a driver dead and wounded several of the players.

Monday’s attack occurred as dozens of the officers carried out morning drills at the Manawan Police Training School.

“We were attacked with bombs. Thick smoke surrounded us. We all ran in panic in different directions,” said Mohammad Asif, a wounded officer taken to a hospital. He described the attackers as bearded and young.

At least 11 police officers died in the attack, police official Ali Nawaz told The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Mobin told the AP at the scene that at least 91 wounded police were sent to hospitals. About 700 trainee officers were inside the academy at the time, he said.

“Some of the attackers are wearing (police) uniforms,” police officer Ahsan Younus told AP at the scene. “They have also taken some of our police as hostage.”

Nawaz said there were reports that some of the attackers had been hit, but no confirmation yet.

TV footage showed several frightened police officers jumping over the wall of the academy to escape the attack. Some crouched behind the concrete wall of the compound, their rifles pointed in the direction of the parade ground where police said the attack took place.

Farther back, masses of security forces and civilians monitored the tense standoff, taking shelter behind the tangled web of security and rescue vehicles. A helicopter hovered over the scene, as officers were shown briefing security forces.

Pakistan’s stability is of paramount concern to the U.S., which is fighting a growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan more than seven years after the American-led invasion ousted the militant regime from power there.

U.S. officials have warned Pakistan that militants pose a threat to its existence, and have prevailed upon the Muslim nation to crack down on insurgents in its border areas. Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters are believed to hide out in Pakistan’s northwest while planning attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In unveiling a new war strategy for Afghanistan last week, President Barack Obama highlighted the important role Pakistan has to play, pledging to increase aid to the country _ whose year-old civilian government is still relatively weak and has been gripped by infighting _ to help it stave off the militancy. But Obama warned Pakistan not to expect a “blank check” without any accountability.

Pakistan’s police forces are often undermanned and underequipped, making them easy targets for insurgent groups. Obama noted that militants had “killed many Pakistani soldiers and police” and pledged increased assistance to Pakistani security forces, specifically equipment for the military.

It was not immediately clear who might be behind Monday’s attack, and no one claimed responsibility, but the ambush and siege-style attack was reminiscent of the assaults on the Sri Lankan team and last year’s siege of the Indian city of Mumbai. The Sri Lankan attack also had features such as heavily armed, backpack-toting gunmen that were hallmarks of the Mumbai attack.

India has blamed the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for that assault, and Pakistan has taken several of the outfit’s alleged leaders into custody. Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is largely based in eastern Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, has denied involvement in either Mumbai or the cricket team attack.

The attack Monday occurred close to the Indian border.

Several militant groups operate well beyond Pakistan’s northwest. Some of them, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, have their roots in the Kashmir dispute with India, and Pakistani spy agencies are believed to have helped set them up.

___

Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad, Sebastian Abbot, Nahal Toosi and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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