Quetta: In one of the deadliest strikes in Pakistan this year, 61 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in an overnight terror attack on a police training academy in Quetta city in the country's restive Balochistan province.
Three militants wearing suicide vests stormed the Police Training College on Saryab Road in the provincial capital at around 11:10 pm on Monday, triggering an operation by Pakistani security forces who rescued hundreds of cadets from the academy. The gunmen targeted the sleeping quarters of recruits. They first killed a police guard at the watchtower and then stormed the dormitory while cadets rested.
The attack sent the terrified men aged between 15 and 25 fleeing for safety. Many of the cadets jumped off the rooftops to try to escape.
Eyewitnesses said the attackers were armed with Kalashnikovs. The attack appeared well coordinated, with experts saying the militants fired at the training centre from five separate points.
Most of the deaths occurred when two of the attackers blew themselves up. The third was shot dead by Frontier Corps troops. Officials said most of the 61 killed were police cadets but some of the casualties were of the Army personnel who responded to the attack.
"We can confirm 61 dead in the attack at the police training college. They include 60 police cadets and one Army soldier," officials said.
More than 125 people were admitted to hospitals. About 20 of them were critical.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's powerful Army Chief General Raheel Sharif reached Quetta to take stock of the situation. He attended the funeral prayer of those killed and visited the facility, where he was briefed on the attack by officials. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also arrived in Quetta and was chairing high-level meetings here. He has cancelled all other engagements today.
Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, the home minister of Balochistan province, had earlier tweeted that 118 people were injured.
Bugti had told reporters that the attack had been carried out by three terrorists, going back on an earlier estimate by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of "five to six terrorists".
Bugti said there were around 700 police cadets and recruits in the college hostel when the attack took place.
Security was tight outside the academy on Tuesday morning, with media kept out of the building as a large contingent of security forces swept the area.
Weeping relatives arrived at the academy and were sent to the main hospital.
Major General Sher Afgan, the chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan, which led the counter-operation, said: "The attack was over in around three hours after we arrived".
He added that communications intercepts showed the militants belonged to the Al-Alimi faction of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group -- which is affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban.
"They were in communication with operatives in Afghanistan," he said. The group itself has not claimed the attack.
Later, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. It said three attackers were deployed for the attack but did not give the motive for carrying out the attack.
The Jhangvi has roots in Punjab province and has a history of carrying out sectarian attacks in Balochistan, particularly against the minority Shias.
Police, meanwhile, said the compound had been cleared but search operations were still on. Local media footage showed some security vehicles leaving the college.
Bugti said the injured people, mostly police cadets and security personnel, had been shifted to the Civil hospital, Bolan Medical College hospital and Military hospital in Quetta. "The condition of some is critical," he said.
The academy has been attacked twice before. In 2006, six policemen were killed in five blasts while in 2008 gunmen fired rockets into the academy grounds and then attacked the college.
The Police Training Centre covers about an acre of land located about 13 kilometres outside the main city of Quetta.
Militants have conducted several attacks against security forces and national installations in Balochistan, which has been plagued by insurgency and growing sectarian killings for over a decade.
The attack came a day after separatist gunmen from the Baloch Liberation Army on a motorcycle shot dead two coast guards and a civilian in coastal town of Jiwani near the Gwadar port in the same province.
In August, a suicide bombing at the civil hospital in Quetta killed 73 people, most of them lawyers. A splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as well as the IS claimed responsibility for the attack.
(With Agency inputs)