Pakistan's cultural capital and politically its most dominant city turned into a virtual battleground on Thursday as security forces battled heavily armed commando-style militants who launched simultaneous attacks in Lahore at two police training academies and the office of the Federal Investigation Agency.

The attacks and the ensuing gun battles left 27 people dead and several more injured. The dead includes 14 policemen, nine attackers and four civilians.

The attacks began at about 9.30 a.m. The strike at the FIA headquarters in the crowded city centre of Lahore was apparently led by just one or possibly two attackers who fired their way into the building with Kalashnikovs and grenades.

Among the several tasks of the FIA is the investigation of terrorist cases. It is in charge of investigating the Pakistan-end of the Mumbai attacks case. Its building was bombed in March 2008 and remains in ruins but some FIA staff continued to function out of the bombed-out structure.

According to reports, some 50 staff were in the building at the time of the attack. A gun battle ensued in which one or both attackers were among seven people killed. Four policemen and a civilian were also among the killed, police officials told journalists. Three people were injured and hospitalised.

Four militants wearing suicide jackets shot their way into the Manawan police training school at about the same time.

The school, which is on the outskirts of Lahore close to the Wagah border, was attacked in March this year, resulting in a day-long stand-off between militants and security forces that led to the death of eight police recruits and injuries to 95 others.

Thursday's attack at the same place lasted over an hour. Security forces engaged the four attackers in a gun-battle, during which two of the militants blew themselves up and two others were killed in the exchange of fire. Nine policemen were killed at this site.

Meanwhile, at least five attackers jumped over the back wall of the Bedian Elite Force training school for police, and according to the police, began firing away with their weapons indiscriminately.

The Bedian training academy, where select policemen are given specialized training, is located six kms from the Lahore Airport towards the border with India, though not in the same direction as Wagah.

One group among the attackers stationed themselves on the roof of a house in the residential compound of the training school, possibly holding the people in the house hostage.

The Army, Rangers and the police were engaged in a gun fight with the attackers for five hours before three of the attackers blew themselves up, and two others were picked out by security forces snipers. A policeman and a civilian were also killed in this stand-off.

The attacks in Lahore, however, are once again bound to focus attention on the extent of the connections and alliances between Al-Qaeda operatives, the Taliban in the NWFP and tribal areas and Punjab-based militant groups.

Last weekend's attack in GHQ was carried out by a group of 10 men, five of whom were from South Wazirisan, and the remaining five from Punjab.

But at a press conference on Thursday, Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab provincial Law Minister, dismissed suggestions of linkages between the Taliban and Punjabi jihadists.

"Can you show me one place in Punjab where there are bases of Taliban, where Talibanisation is taking place?" he asked reporters.

Earlier this week, the Pakistan Army also dismissed as "hype" the importance of Punjab, especially its southern belt where groups such the anti-India Jaish-e-Mohammed have their base, as an emerging centre of extremist militancy and terrorism with links to the Taliban in the tribal areas.

But media analysts and experts said militants who carried out Thursday's attacks in Lahore showed a familiarity with the city that could not have been possible if not for the involvement of Punjabi militants in these attacks.

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