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Dozens killed in brazen attack on Pakistani police academy

Banaras Khan, AFP | Pakistani soldiers arrive at the Balochistan Police Training College in Quetta on October 24, 2016, after militants attacked the police academy

At least 59 people were killed and more than a hundred critically wounded when gunmen stormed a police training academy in the Pakistani city of Quetta overnight Tuesday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

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The brazen assault on the highly secured site was claimed by the IS group’s Amaq news agency, which released a photograph of three men claimed to be the attackers.

Earlier Tuesday, a little known breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Hakimullah group, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the assault. But Pakistani authorities, doubting the group's capabilities in staging such a coordinated and spectacular assault, could not confirm the claim.

The assault on the police academy caught many of the recruits asleep in their dorms and forced cadets and trainers to jump off rooftops and run for their lives to escape the attackers.

While most of the casualties were police cadets and others at the academy, some of the army personnel who responded to the assault were also among those killed, said Shahzada Farhat, police spokesman in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

>> Watch more on FRANCE24.com: Baluchistan: a hotbed of anti-government sentiment in Pakistan

The attack began at 11:30pm Monday, said Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti, with the militants shooting and killing a police guard at the watch tower before storming into the academy, located on the outskirts of Quetta.

France 24’s Taha Siddiqui reporting from Islamabad

There were disparate figures on the number of attackers. Provincial police chief Ahsan Mahboob said four gunmen were involved in the assault, while a military statement later said there were up to six attackers.

About 700 cadets, trainees, instructors and other staff were inside the academy when it was attacked, Bugti said, adding that the gunbattle with the militants lasted for at least four hours.

‘I ran away, just praying’

Once inside the academy grounds, Pakistani media said, the gunmen headed straight to the dorms housing the cadets and trainees and opened fire, shooting indiscriminately. Some of the cadets jumped off the rooftops and through windows to try to escape.

"They were rushing toward our building, firing," one cadet told Pakistani Geo TV news channel. "We rushed for safety toward the roof and jumped down in the back of the building."

Another recruit, his face covered in blood, told the station the gunmen shot at whoever they saw. "I ran away, just praying God might save me," he said.

After the attack, Pakistani forces tightened security around the academy and Quetta hospitals where the wounded were taken. Footage aired on local television stations showed ambulances rushing out of the main entrance of the academy as fire engines struggled to put out fires set off by the explosions from the attackers' suicide vests.

Most of those being treated at the city hospitals had gunshot wounds, although some sustained injuries jumping off the rooftop of the hostel housing the cadets to escape the gunmen.

"This war isn't over," said Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. "The enemy is weakened, but not eliminated."

Afghanistan dismisses Pakistan’ allegations

Major General Sher Afgan, head of the Pakistani paramilitary force which is primarily responsible for the province, claimed the attackers had received instructions from commanders in neighboring Afghanistan. He said they were most likely from the banned Lashker-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi militant group affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Sunni militant group has mainly targeted minority Shiite Muslims whom its members consider to be infidels.

The paramilitary chief spoke before the claims by the IS group and the breakaway Taliban Hakimullah group surfaced.

Afghanistan condemned the attack and dismissed Pakistan's allegations that the assault was planned from bases inside Afghanistan. "Afghanistan is the biggest victim of terrorism and denounces all terrorist attacks," said Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

In a separate statement, Ghani also condemned the attack, saying that "terrorism is a threat throughout the region, which is reflected in the brutal act today in Quetta".

Pakistan maintains that militants fleeing army operations in the tribal regions regularly escape across the border, finding safe havens inside Afghanistan. For his part, Ghani has been deeply critical of Pakistan, saying it has provided safe havens to the Taliban and in particular the violent Haqqani network.

For over a decade, Baluchistan has been the scene of a low-intensity insurgency by nationalist and separatist groups demanding a bigger share in the regional resources. Islamic militants and Sunni sectarians also have a presence in the province.

Pakistan has carried out several military operations against militants in the country's lawless tribal regions along the Afghanistan border, including a major push that started mid 2014 in North Waziristan. Islamic militants have killed tens of thousands of people in their bid to overthrow Pakistan's government and install their own harsh brand of Islamic law.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)
 

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