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Lahore attack: Pak Taliban chief owns up

M Zulqernain in Lahore | March 31, 2009 15:02 IST

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Pakistani Taliban [Images] chief Baitullah Mehsud on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the brazen attack on a police academy near Lahore [Images] and threatened to carry out more such strikes unless Islamabad [Images] withdraws troops from tribal areas and drone attacks cease in the troubled North West Frontier Province.

Mehsud, on whom the US has announced a bounty of $5 million, made the claim to the media from an undisclosed location, even as the prime suspect in Monday's assault has said that all his accomplices were from the tribal areas.

Pakistani authorities, who have stepped up vigil in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore as well as other major urban areas in the wake of growing terrorist attacks, said three more "local facilitators" have been arrested.

Director General of Pakistan Rangers General Yakub Khan said three more arrests had been made on the information provided by the captured militant Gul Khan alias Ishrat Khan.

Though there were claims on Monday of six terrorists being captured alive, Deputy Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera, who is part of the investigation team, on Tuesday said there were only five attackers. There appeared to be only five attackers -- three blew themselves up to avoid capture, one managed to escape and the fifth one was Khan, he said.

"Khan belongs to Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's group and came to Lahore from Afghanistan a few months ago. He carried out the attack with his fellow countrymen in connivance with local facilitators," Sukhera said.

Khan and his accomplices had rented a house in Manawan, where the training centre is located, couple of weeks ago to prepare for the attack. Along with Mehsud, another little-known group called Fedayeen al-Islam also claimed responsibility for the attack on the police academy.

Its spokesman Umar Farooq also claimed to the media that his group had carried out a similar attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team earlier this month. Farooq, whose group is also linked to the Taliban, put forth similar demands as Masood except release of Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was the cleric of Islamabad's famous Red Mosque, which was stormed by security forces under former President Pervez Musharraf's [Images] rule.

"We will carry out more such attacks in the future and these attacks are in retaliation for US drone attacks on tribal areas," Mehsud as well as Farooq said in separate statements. Pakistan Interior Ministry Chief Rehman Malik has said that Monday's attack had roots along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and even identified Wazirisatan, where US suspects that Al-Qaeda [Images] Osama Bin Laden [Images] may be hiding.

Pakistani officials described Monday's attack as "highly coordinative" with Pakistan Rangers chief, saying that the terrorists were highly-motivated and trained, and came to the police academy wearing suicide jackets.

The weapons they were using were easily available in Afghanistan or border belt between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Police instructor Mohammad Iqbal, lying in hospital bed with head injuries, said the attack was to avenge Pakistani security forces operation in the tribal areas and against Red Mosque radicals in 2007.

Iqbal told TV channels that he remembered that every time he saw the terrorists hurling grenades they were shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great). Eight police cadets and one civilian were killed in the assault on the institute with the terrorists keeping at bay security forces for over eight hours till they were overpowered.

Mourners gathered on Tuesday in another police building in the city for the funeral prayers of the cadets, whose coffins were wrapped in Pakistani flags and sheets with verses of Quran inscribed on them.




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