LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) – Gunmen stormed three police buildings in Pakistan's cultural capital Lahore on Thursday while a suicide car bomber slammed into another police station in the northwest, killing 19 people.
The simultaneous assaults underscored the weakness of a police force on the frontline against Taliban militants who have exacted 11 days of carnage with the military believed to be readying a new offensive near the Afghan border.
|A Pakistani bomb disposal squad member removes a suicide jacket from the body of an attacker at the premises of Federal Investigation Agency, a criminal police building after gunmen attacked in Lahore. (AFP photo)|
Nuclear-armed Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan and is a key ally in the US-led "war on terror" has seen Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked attacks kill 2,250 people in more than two years and 137 people in the last 11 days.
Two of the police buildings in Lahore were attacked previously -- a training academy that was assaulted in a commando-style raid that took security forces eight hours to bring under control last March and a second bombed in 2008.
"All three were terrorist attacks... Seven people were killed. Four were police officials. Details about three other fatalities are being collected," Punjab provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told Geo television.
Around five people attacked the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building, 10-15 gunmen stormed the police commando academy in Bedian and 10 militants attacked a police school in Manawan, both on the outskirts of Lahore.
"Different group of attackers have attacked and tried to enter two police training centres in Lahore. We now have three near-simultaneous attacks against police facilities," police official Kamran Ahmad told AFP.
Police said the attack at the FIA building was quickly repelled and that firing had stopped at Manawan, where police reinforcements were inside.
"The building has been cleared. The operation is complete. There were five dead total... three of them are police officials," said senior Lahore police official Haider Ashraf.
Pakistan's weak civilian government sought to under play the attacks.
"The firing is going on at two other places -- Bedian and Manawan -- where forces are alert. You will soon hear good news from there. We will take control," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters.
Thursday's attacks underscored poor police security. The training centre at Manawan was attacked on March 30. Eight police recruits died before security forces finally overpowered the multi-pronged assault after nearly eight hours.
The FIA building in Lahore was bombed in March 2008, killing 16 people.
In the northwest town of Kohat near Peshawar, district police chief Dilawar Bangash said 11 people were killed.
"The bomber ploughed his car into the outer wall of the police station" in Kohat, he told AFP, adding that the building was badly damaged.
Eight people have died, including civilians and children, and the toll may go up, Kohat police official Fazle Naeem said with fears that some people may be trapped under the debris.
At least 52 civilians were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber rammed his car into a market in Peshawar.
The following day, Taliban-linked gunmen staged an audacious raid on army headquarters near Islamabad with 22 people killed in a day-long siege that also saw 39 hostages freed by commando troops.
After the militants' brazen headquarters assault, speculation has intensified that the military is preparing to go into the insurgent hotbed of South Warizistan with tens of thousands of residents fleeing their homes.
On Thursday, a US drone missile attack on a suspected militant hideout in remote North Waziristan killed at least four people, security officials said. Related article: US drone attack in Pakistan
The pre-dawn strike targeted the suspected militant compound in Dandey Darpa Khel near the Afghan border, a security official said.
US President Barack Obama is poised to sign a bill giving 7.5 billion dollars to build schools, roads and democratic institutions in Pakistan as part of a strategy to discredit extremists in the nation and Afghanistan.