LAHORE, Pakistan – Teams of gunmen attacked three law enforcement facilities in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore today, a major escalation in an audacious wave of terrorist 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 on Lahore’s outskirts in violence that was continuing, Shafiq said.
One occurred at the Manawan police training school – 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 today’s 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.
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.