IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Gunmen attack 2 Pakistani police stations

Gunmen enter a federal law enforcement building in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, firing shots and terrifying employees in the latest in a string of attacks to rock this country.
Pakistan
People lay flower wreaths in Lahore, Pakistan, Wednesday on huge pictures of Pakistani army commandos who were killed during a militant attack on the army's headquarters earlier this month.K.m. Chaudary / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gunmen entered a federal law enforcement building in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, firing shots and terrifying employees in the latest in a string of attacks to rock this U.S.-allied nuclear-armed country as it prepares to launch a major offensive in a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold.

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 attack in Lahore occurred at a building housing the Federal Investigation Agency, a premier 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. "I can see two people hit, but I do not know who they are."

The attack appeared similar to a siege mounted on the army's headquarters over the past weekend that left 23 people dead and was claimed by the Taliban as their work. The militants have also claimed credit for other attacks in recent days, warning Pakistan to stop pursuing them in military operations.

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

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.

Fleeing border region
Streams of civilians jammed into cars and trucks Wednesday to flee the region as the government pounded the area with airstrikes ahead of an expected ground offensive against the Taliban along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Bombing runs over suspected militant hide-outs have sharply increased in recent days after a string of bloody attacks on military and civilian targets killed scores of people across Pakistan. Government officials said the wave of terror was forcing them to take the fight to the insurgents' heartland.

The army, which gave no timeframe for the offensive, has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the region.

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.

The exodus intensified with the increase in airstrikes in recent days.

Mass exodus
Since the weekend, about 80 vehicles a day have been carrying fleeing families past one checkpoint at Chonda on the edge of Dera Ismail Khan, said Naimatullah Khan, a police officer based there.

Police at the isolated checkpoint stopped the departing vehicles Wednesday, checked people's identification, searched their luggage and frisked some of them. Many of those fleeing had to take circuitous routes over back roads to dodge the military blockade.

Haji Ayub Mehsud, 55, said the increased bombing forced him to flee with his six children.

"It is difficult for local people to stay there in peace. I had to bring out my family," Mehsud told an AP reporter at Chonda.

In new bombing Wednesday afternoon, military jets pounded a cave in the Spinkai area, killing eight people, officials said.

Local tribesmen said the victims were all civilians, including three women and three children, who had abandoned their home and fled to the cave to seek shelter from the heavy shelling. The two tribesmen spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals.

Intelligence officials, however, said the bombs hit a suspected militant hide-out, killing eight insurgents. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Independent confirmation of the attack was not available. The army has barred reporters from the region.

The strike in the rugged, mountainous region came after a wave of air attacks late Tuesday and early Wednesday that killed nine insurgents, the intelligence officials said.

Left homeless
As of last month, at least 80,000 people had registered with the government as displaced from South Waziristan, said Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency. Government officials say only half of those fleeing the area have bothered to register.

The U.N. has distributed various types of aid — from kitchen sets to jerry cans — to around 6,500 families and is monitoring the situation, Rummery said.

An offensive in South Waziristan is not expected to create anywhere near the refugee problem the government faced when its Swat Valley offensive earlier this year rapidly displaced 2 million people and forced many into tent camps. The residents of South Waziristan have had plenty of warning about the expected operation, appear to have places to stay nearby and the region has far fewer residents, with population estimates of around 500,000 before the recent exodus.

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. But a push into rugged South Waziristan could be difficult for the army, which was beaten back on three previous offensives into the Taliban heartland there and forced to sign peace deals.

Taliban: We're ready
Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said Wednesday that any government attack on South Waziristan would be bloody.

"We are fully prepared to counter them in an unprecedented war," he said in a phone call to The Associated Press.

Pakistan has been hit by four major terrorist attacks over the last 10 days, including a weekend siege of the army's headquarters just outside the capital. The military says 80 percent of the attacks in Pakistan are planned from South Waziristan but that militants from Punjab province in the heart of the country helped the Taliban with the assault on army headquarters.

There has been growing concern that the Taliban along the Afghan border would spread to other regions of the country and form alliances with militant groups there.

Stephen Fakan, the U.S. consul-general in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, cautioned that an operation in South Waziristan could send the Taliban into the neighboring province of Baluchistan.

"They have to go somewhere," he said.

More on: South Waziristan