Islamic terrorists conducted a deadly complex attack in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. Twenty-three people are reported to have been killed and more than 300 were wounded in a combined armed assault and suicide strike that targeted an emergency police and an intelligence headquarters in the heart of the city.
The attack took place in a high security zone that houses government buildings. A team armed with assault rifles, machine guns, and hand grenades crashed their van through security barriers near the Lahore emergency police headquarters and a headquarters building for Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, dismounted between the buildings, and opened fire on security guards.
The van, which was rigged with several hundreds of pounds of explosives, was detonated after security guards returned fire. The blast leveled a building used by rescue units and damaged the police and ISI buildings.
According to reports, one or more gunmen entered the ISI building and firefights lasted for nearly one hour. Pakistani troops are reported to have entered the ISI building to battle the terrorists.
The assault took a heavy toll on the police and the ISI. Sixteen policemen and seven intelligence officials were killed in the explosion and gun battles. Three of the attackers were captured and the rest were killed.
Lahore’s police chief claimed he was the target of the terrorist attack, however eyewitness accounts indicate the ISI building was the target of the strike.
“As some people came out from that vehicle and starting firing at the ISI office, the guards from inside that building returned fire,” Sajjad Bhutta, a senior government official in Lahore said.
The Lahore attack occurred as the military is on the offensive against the Taliban in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla in the insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province. The Army claimed much of Swat and Buner have been cleared of the Taliban as fighting is underway in Swat’s main town of Mingora.
Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban, has ordered fighters in Mingora not to resist the military while Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the pro-Taliban group that negotiated the latest peace agreement in the region, is calling for a resumption of the ceasefire that allowed for the implementation of Islamic law.
Third complex attack in Lahore this year
Today’s strike is the third complex attack in the capital of Punjab province since February of this year and is the latest in a series of military-styled terror assaults that have been launched by the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other allied terror groups. These groups have conducted similar strikes in India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen [see
The last such attack took place in Lahore on March 30, when a terrorist assault team, estimated in size at 14 men, launched a coordinated attack on the Manawan Police Training School. More than 30 police recruits and officers were killed and 90 more were wounded during the 8-hour siege. The terrorists used infantry squad tactics combined with suicide vests.
Baituallah Mehsud, the South Waziristan-based commander of the Pakistani Taliban, took credit for the strike and said it was carried out to avenge the Pakistan-backed US Predator airstrikes in the tribal regions that are targeting al Qaeda and Taliban networks.
On March 3, a terrorist strike team estimated at about 12 men ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team as it traveled to a sports stadium in Lahore. Five policemen and two civilians were killed, and dozens were wounded, including some cricket officials. The attack caused the international cricket association to cancel matches in Pakistan.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba is the likely culprit in today’s attack, and it may have conducted the strike with elements of the Jaish-e-Mohammed as it did in the December 2001 assault on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
The banned group continues to operate in Pakistan as the government has only made token efforts to crack down on the group. Over the weekend, several senior members of the group behind the Mumbai assault were released from police custody. Among those released were Hamir Hamza, an operational planner of the Mumbai attack, and Abdul Rehman, the chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s communications branch.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, Harakat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a host of Pakistani jihadi terror groups have joined forces to battle both the Pakistani military in the Northwest Frontier Province and the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
Al Qaeda has revived its paramilitary army, formerly known as the 055 Brigade and now known as the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’].
The Shadow Army contains fighters from each of these terror groups, and trains in camps in the Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas, as well as in Afghanistan [see LWJ reports Al Qaeda Shadow Army camps located in northern Helmand and Al Qaeda’s Shadow Army commander outlines Afghan strategy].
In the past, al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri and spokesman and ideologue Abu Yahya al Libi have advocated for Pakistanis to revolt against the state and overthrow the government. The al Qaeda leaders have also urged the military to turn on the government and join the jihad.
Information in this report was compiled from reports at The Nation, Dawn, and Geo News.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.