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Taliban storm Pak army HQ, 10 killed
Hold security personnel hostage
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Taliban terrorists were on Saturday night holding 10-15 hostages, including security personnel, hours after launching an audacious attack on Pakistan Army’s headquarters in nearby Rawalpindi that sparked a fierce gun battle in which a Brigadier and five other armymen were killed.

While the casualties in the shootout following the assault by heavily armed Taliban militants included a Lt Colonel, four terrorists were also killed.

The hostages include some civilian employees in the Army headquarters.

At least eight militants armed with assault rifles and grenades, dressed in military uniform, came in a white van and opened fire when they were challenged by the armymen at a check post near a cricket stadium outside the fortified General Headquarters of army at 1130 hours.

The Army initially claimed that the situation was under control. But in the night Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said four to five terrorists were holding about 10 to 15 security personnel and civilian employees hostage in the building. The terrorists are armed and had explosives.

Abbas said troops were taking steps to “save as many lives as possible” but declined to give details.

Asked if the terrorists holed up inside the building had made any demands, Abbas said, “this is too sensitive an issue and I can’t share details with the media right now”.

On Tehrik-e-Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack, he said: “we don’t know about the veracity of the claim and will let you know once the intelligence agencies give their report”.

Over nine hours after the assault began, scores of army commandos and policemen surrounded a security office near the heavily guarded General Headquarters complex where the hostages were being held.

There were reports that officials had established contacts with the terrorists to ensure a peaceful resolution of the hostage crisis. The terrorists were asked to surrender unconditionally.

Earlier in the day, the heavily armed terrorists who came in a van, opened fire at a check post after being challenged, killing all soldiers stationed there.

They then left their van and ran towards another check post, sparking a gun battle that lasted 45 minutes.

Four terrorists and six soldiers, including a brigadier and a lieutenant colonel, were killed in the fierce skirmish.

Abbas said a total of eight to 10 terrorists were involved in the attack. Abbas initially told reporters that soldiers had foiled the attempt by terrorists to enter the General Headquarters and that the situation was “fully under control”. However, gunfire erupted again shortly after he spoke to the media.

Abbas said there was “some confusion” as the terrorists were wearing “camouflage uniforms”.

Scores of soldiers, including commandos of the elite Special Service Group, were deployed for the operation against the remaining terrorists. Police in Islamabad arrested two suspects with links to the attackers and seized army uniforms, detonators and fuses from them, officials said.

The suspects were arrested from a house in Model Town Humak on the outskirts of the federal capital. Officials said they believed the suspects plotted the attack at the house.

A man claiming to represent the Amjad Farooqi faction of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to Geo News channel.

The caller demanded that the government halt military operations against militants and make former President Pervez Musharraf accountable for his actions.

Amjad Farooqi is a militant who rose to prominence after the 9/11 terror attacks. He has been linked to the abduction and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s and attempts on Musharraf’s life.

The terrorists tried to gain entry to the heavily fortified General Headquarters by using a street that connects the Mall Road, one of Rawalpindi’s main thoroughfares, to the General Headquarters.

Dozens of army commandos in black uniforms and wearing body armour cordoned off the area around the Headquarters, where traffic came to a standstill after the firing began.

Several army helicopters hovered over the area.

All roads leading to the army headquarters were sealed till late in the evening. TV channels beamed deferred footage from the scene as they believed aides of the terrorists could be monitoring the coverage.

Three channels were also taken off air briefly apparently due to concerns over their coverage of the incident.

Observers said the attack showed that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan still had the capability to strike at high-value targets despite the success of military operations against militants in the northwestern Swat valley.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said a wave of suicide attacks and bombings had left the government with no option but to launch a military operation in South Waziristan, the main stronghold of the Taliban.

There was also a key similarity between today’s attack and Monday’s suicide bombing of the UN food agency’s office in Islamabad - in both incidents, the attackers were disguised as security personnel.

With inputs from PTI



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