Pakistan on Tuesday mourned the killing of at least 61 people in a brutal gun and suicide bomb assault on a police academy, the deadliest attack on a security installation in the country’s history.
Three masked gunmen burst into the sprawling academy in the southwest, pretending to be soldiers as they targeted sleeping quarters home to some 700 recruits in a strike that sent terrified young men fleeing.
“They… knocked at the locked rooms and told the cadets that they were from the army, and when they opened the doors, they fired at them,” a 22-year-old cadet called Hikmatullah told AFP from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to the left shoulder.
“They came in by jumping over the walls of the academy which are very low. I ran away from my room and was hit by a bullet, I still managed to flee.”
The attack on the Balochistan Police College, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of the provincial capital Quetta, began around 11:10 pm (1810 GMT) on Monday, with gunfire continuing to ring out at the site for several hours.
Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of Balochistan province, told reporters the attackers first killed a tower sentry before accessing the grounds.
A morgue list seen by AFP listed 61 people were killed in the attack, while 118 were injured, according to a government spokesman.
Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan which led the counter-operation, blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group, and said the counter-strike was over in three hours.
An emailed claim from the Pakistani Taliban, which shares close operational ties with LeJ, backed that assertion.
“This attack was carried (out on the instructions of) Mullah Daud Mansour, close ally of Hakimullah Mehsud and head of Pakistani Taliban in Karachi,” it said, adding four fighters took part.
“This was to avenge the killing of those of our Mujahideen who were killed indiscriminately (in fake encounters) outside jails in Punjab,” it said in an apparent reference to the recent surge in extrajudicial executions of LeJ fighters.
The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) takfiri group also made a claim via Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and released a picture of what it said were the three attackers.
LeJ officially pledges allegiance to Al-Qaeda, the ISIL group’s major rival. But the dual claims could be evidence of new linkages that remain unofficial, analysts say.
“In the Quetta attack, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s claim seems to carry more weightage but ISIL has released photographs of the militants and this link between LeJ and ISIL will be determined in the coming days,” said analyst Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a thinktank.