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Updated: October 15, 2009 11:11 IST

Gunmen attack 3 sites in east Pakistan, 8 killed

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Pakistani troops cordon off the vicinity of army's headquarters in Rawalpindi on Sunday. On Thursday, gunmen stormed FIA building in Lahore and in the exchange of fire about seven people were killed. File Photo: AP
Pakistani troops cordon off the vicinity of army's headquarters in Rawalpindi on Sunday. On Thursday, gunmen stormed FIA building in Lahore and in the exchange of fire about seven people were killed. File Photo: AP

Teams of gunmen attacked three law enforcement facilities in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, a major escalation in an audacious wave of terror strikes as this U.S.-allied, nuclear-armed country prepares for an offensive in a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.

At least seven people died in a gunfight with police at one site, police said as the city plunged into chaos.

In the Taliban-riddled northwest, meanwhile, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle next to a police station, killing at least eight people, while a suspected U.S. missile strike killed four alleged militants, officials said.

“The enemy has started a guerrilla war,” Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik told a local television station.

One attack in Lahore occurred at a building housing the Federal Investigation Agency, a law enforcement organization that deals with matters ranging from immigration to terrorism. Local media channels reported that hostages were being held.

“We are under attack,” said Mohammad Riaz, an FIA employee reached inside the building via phone by The Associated Press during the assault. “I can see two people hit, but I do not know who they are.”

Senior government official Sajjad Bhutta said the attack lasted about 1 1/2 hours and was over by 11 a.m. He said the dead included two attackers, four government employees and a bystander. Senior police official Chaudhry Shafiq said one of the dead wore a jacket bearing explosives.

Two other groups of attackers struck police facilities in the area Lahore’s outskirts in violence that was continuing, Shafiq said.

One occurred at the Manawan police training school {mdash} the second time attackers have struck there this year. The earlier attack led to an eight-hour standoff with the army that left 12 people dead. No casualty figures were immediately available for the Thursday strike.

Another was at an elite police commando training center not far from the airport. Senior police official Malik Iqbal said at least one police constable was killed there.

Television footage showed helicopters in the air over one of the police facilities and paramilitary forces with rifles and bulletproof vests taking cover behind trees outside a wall surrounding the compound.

The militants have claimed credit for a series of attacks in recent days, including a siege of the army’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that left 23 people dead.

The Taliban have warned Pakistan to stop pursuing them in military operations.

The Pakistani army has given no time frame for the expected offensive in South Waziristan tribal region, but has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area.

Fearing the looming offensive, about 200,000 people have fled South Waziristan since August, moving in with relatives or renting homes in the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan areas, a local government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The Thursday morning suicide attack occurred in the Saddar area of Kohat, a district near the tribal areas.

Police official Afzal Khan said at least 20 people were wounded, and that both police and civilians were among the eight killed. Half the police building was brought down.

“We fear that some policemen are trapped under the rubble,” he said.

The U.S. has encouraged Pakistan to take strong action against insurgents who are using its soil as a base for attacks in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are bogged down in an increasingly difficult war.

The Americans have carried out a slew of their own own missile strikes in South and North Waziristan over the past year, killing several top militants including Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

The early Thursday missile strike hit a compound in Dande Derpa Khel, an area in North Waziristan where members of the militant network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani are believed to operate.

The two intelligence officials who gave word of the strike said the exact identities of the four killed were unclear. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.

Pakistani formally protests the missile strikes as violations of its sovereignty, but many analysts believe it has a secret deal with the U.S. allowing them.

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