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Islamists kill 61 in assault on Pakistan police academy

Three masked gunmen burst into the sprawling academy in the southwest, pretending to be soldiers as they targeted sleeping quarters home to some 700 recruits in a strike that sent terrified young men fleeing.

“They … knocked at the locked rooms and told the cadets that they were from the army, and when they opened the doors, they fired at them,” a 22-year-old cadet called Hikmatullah told AFP from his hospital bed where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to the left shoulder.

“They came in by jumping over the walls of the academy which are very low. I ran away from my room and was hit by a bullet, I still managed to flee.”

The attack on the Balochistan Police College, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of the provincial capital Quetta, began around 11:10 p.m. (1810 GMT) on Monday, with gunfire continuing to ring out at the site for several hours.

Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister of Balochistan province, told reporters the attackers first killed a tower sentry before accessing the grounds.

A morgue list seen by AFP listed 61 people people were killed in the attack, while 118 were injured, according to a government spokesman.

Major General Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Balochistan which led the counter-operation, blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militant group, and said the counter-strike was over in three hours.

An emailed claim from the Pakistani Taliban, which shares close operational ties with LeJ, backed that assertion.

“This attack was carried (out on the instructions of) Mullah Daud Mansour, close ally of Hakimullah Mehsud and head of Pakistani Taliban in Karachi,” it said, adding four fighters took part.

“This was to avenge the killing of those of our Mujahideen who were killed indiscriminately (in fake encounters) outside jails in Punjab,” it said in an apparent reference to the recent surge in extrajudicial executions of LeJ fighters.

The Islamic State group also made a claim via Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and released a picture of what it said were the three attackers.

LeJ officially pledges allegiance to al-Qaida, the IS group’s major rival. But the dual claims could be evidence of new linkages that remain unofficial, analysts say.

“In the Quetta attack, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s claim seems to carry more weightage but IS has released photographs of the militants and this link between LeJ and IS will be determined in the coming days,” said analyst Amir Rana, the director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, a thinktank.

Funeral Honors

Pakistan’s top military and intelligence brass including army chief Raheel Sharif attended an official funeral ceremony for the victims, whose bodies were placed in coffins draped in white and borne by soldiers in dress uniform.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif later flew to Quetta to chair a high-level security meeting.

It was the third deadliest attack of the year in Pakistan, which has been racked by a homegrown Islamist insurgency since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.