Lahore: Nine police recruits were killed in an attack on Monday by masked gunmen in Lahore, Punjab, police said.
All the victims were reported to be from northwestern Khyber Pakthunkhwa province where local Taliban insurgents operate from tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Eight personnel were also injured in the early morning attack and were hospitalised.
Punjab’s Inspector General police Habibur Rehman said the attack on the hostel of the recruits appeared to be a reaction to the reopening of Nato supply routes through Pakistan, like the assault on Monday on an army camp near Gujrat in Punjab in which seven soldiers and a policeman died.
He said according to preliminary investigations some ten men were involved in the attack, adding the attackers were most probably from the group that carried out the attack on the army camp.
Reports said the assailants drove to the place in a car and on motorcycles. The raiders barged into the building, opened fire on the inmates and kept spraying them with bullets for several minutes before fleeing the scene.
Punjab, home to 60 per cent of the country’s 180 million people, is ruled by the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim-N headed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose younger brother Shahbaz Sharif is chief minister of the province.
Meanwhile, one survivor told reporters from his hospital bed that staff jumped frantically onto the roof tops of neighbouring houses to escape the hail of bullets.
“About 15 of us were sleeping on the roof and some were offering prayers when gunfire started downstairs. Some of my colleagues who went down to see what was happening were killed or wounded,” Mohammad Rizwan Shah, 23, said.
He said he works in the prison in the northwestern city of Peshawar, which houses Taliban and other Islamist militants, and came to Lahore six weeks ago for a training course due to end on July 28.
“I jumped over to the house next door to save my life and fractured my arm. Others too jumped walls and into neighbouring houses,” he said.
Police said nine other people were wounded, and the victims were shot as they slept on mats.
Local resident, Mohammad Siddiq, 43, said he saw gunmen fleeing on motorcycles and a blood-drenched body lying in the street at around 5:30 am (0030 GMT).
Pakistan’s main umbrella Taliban faction claimed responsibility.
Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP in a telephone call that the attack proved “no place is beyond our reach”.
He said five attackers targeted the policemen because Taliban inmates were tortured in prisons in the northwest and said the raid was “part of chain of attacks” that started in Punjab’s district of Gujrat on Monday and would continue.
Police also blamed the “same gang” who killed seven security personnel at an army camp in Gujrat, 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad, on Monday.
Considered Pakistan’s cultural capital and close to the Indian border, Lahore is a city of eight million that in 2010 suffered a string of high-profile bombings blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaida-linked militants.
But since early 2011, it had been largely shielded from violence linked to the Islamist extremists based in Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan in the northwest.
Tensions have been high among right-wing and extremist organisations since Pakistan last week decided to reopen its Afghan border to NATO supply convoys, ending a seven-month blockade following negotiations with US officials.
The Defence Council of Pakistan, a coalition of right-wing and hardline Islamist groups bitterly opposed to the country’s alliance with Washington, has urged people to protest against the resumption of supplies for NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Just hours before Monday’s attack, thousands from the Defence Council of Pakistan passed through Gujrat on a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad.
Pakistan closed the routes in protest at US air strikes in November last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The air strikes plunged ties between Islamabad and the United States, already shaky after the US killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May 2011, to a new low.
After months of negotiations, a rapprochement was achieved when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologised for the November deaths.
– With inputs from AFP