Security personnel stand guard outside a hospital where injured police officers are treated after a militant attack on a police station in Dera Ismail Khan, on February 5, 2024. Image Credit: REUTERS

PESHAWAR: Militants armed with rockets, guns and grenades attacked a police station in a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban in the country’s northwest before dawn on Monday, killing 10 officers before fleeing, authorities said.

Six other officers were wounded in this year’s deadliest attack in Dera Ismail Khan, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan. No group immediately claimed responsibility. Senior police officer Anees-ul-Hassan said security forces were working to find and arrest the attackers.

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The violence came two months after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle outside a police station in the same district, killing at least 23 troops and wounding 32 others.

That attack was claimed by a newly formed militant group — Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, which is believed to be an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. Following the December 5 attack in Dera Ismail Khan, troops killed 27 insurgents in multiple operations, according to the military and local police officials.

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Monday’s violence came ahead of Thursday’s parliamentary elections.

It also came about a week after insurgents attacked security forces in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing six people, including four security personnel. The military also killed 24 insurgents after coming under attack in Mach, a district in Baluchistan, last week.

The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks in recent months.

Most of such attacks have happened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where militants in January 2023 killed at least 101 people, mostly police officers, when a suicide bomber disguised as a policeman attacked a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Monday’s attack began at 3am and continued for hours, Hassan said.

Naseeb Khan, one of the wounded police officers, told The Associated Press from a hospital that most of the officers were killed and wounded by sniper fire. “The terrorists first threw hand grenades at our police station in the area of Chodwan, and then snipers started hitting us when we responded to the fire,” he said.

Khan received bullet injuries in his hand. Another wounded officer, Sharaf Khan, said the exchange of fire between police and the insurgents continued for hours, and the attackers fled when additional security personnel arrived.

Government officials and political parties which are taking part in the February 8 elections condemned the attack. Authorities have said the vote will not be delayed because of the surge in violence.

Dera Ismail Khan is located near South Waziristan, a former militant sanctuary.

Pakistan’s army carried out multiple operations there after a 2014 attack on an army-run school killed more than 150 people, mostly children.