LAHORE: Gunmen shot dead nine Pakistani police and prison staff as they slept in Lahore on Thursday, the second attack on security forces in the country’s political heartland since Islamabad reopened a Nato supply corridor.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the dawn raid, in which police said 10 gunmen stormed a hostel housing officers being trained from the troubled northwest.
The killings, and a similar assault on an army camp on Monday, raise fears of a fresh wave of violence in Punjab, the country’s most populous province that will be vital in upcoming elections, and which for the past year had seen a lull in Taliban attacks.
IG Punjab Police Habibur Rehman said the attackers came on three motorcycles and one car, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades.
They then stormed the building in the densely populated area of Ichra, where around 30 police and prison staff were sleeping early Thursday.
One survivor told AFP from his hospital bed that staff jumped frantically onto the roof tops of neighbouring houses to escape the hail of bullets.
“About 15 of us were sleeping on the roof and some were offering prayers when gunfire started downstairs. Some of my colleagues who went down to see what was happening were killed or wounded,” Mohammad Rizwan Shah, 23, told AFP.
He said he works in the prison in Peshawar and came to Lahore six weeks ago for a training course due to end on July 28.
“I jumped over to the house next door to save my life and fractured my arm. Others too jumped walls and into neighbouring houses,” he said.
Police said nine other people were wounded, and that the victims were shot as they slept on simple mats now soaked with blood.
Local resident, Mohammad Siddiq, 43, told AFP he saw gunmen fleeing on motorcycles and a blood-drenched body lying in the street at around 5:30am (0030 GMT).
Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP in a telephone call that the attack was carried out because the officers being trained “are used in operations against us”.
“We want to prove that no place is beyond our reach,” he added.
Police blamed the “same gang” who killed seven security personnel at an army camp in Punjab’s district of Gujrat, 150 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Islamabad, on Monday.
A senior security official said Monday’s attackers were “highly likely” to have belonged to a banned organisation in league with the Taliban.
Considered Pakistan’s cultural capital and close to the Indian border, Lahore is a city of eight million that in 2010 suffered a string of high-profile bombings blamed on Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants.
But since early 2011, it had been largely shielded from violence linked to the extremists based in Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan in the northwest.
Tensions have been high among right-wing and extremist organisations since Pakistan last week decided to reopen its Afghan border to Nato supply convoys, ending a seven-month blockade following negotiations with US officials.
The Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) has urged Pakistanis to protest against the resumption of supplies for Nato troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Just hours before Monday’s attack, thousands from the DPC passed through Gujrat on a protest march from Lahore to Islamabad.
Pakistan closed the routes in protest at US air strikes in November last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
The air strikes plunged ties between Islamabad and the United States, already shaky after the US killing of Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May 2011, to a new low.
After months of negotiations, a rapprochement was achieved when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologised for the November deaths.