QUETTA, Pakistan – Gunmen stormed a police training center late Monday in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province and detonated explosive vests, killing at least 48 police trainees, authorities said.
Baluchistan’s top health official, Noorul Haq, said at least 116 people were wounded – mostly police trainees and some paramilitary troops.
A security official put the death toll at 51. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Maj. Gen. Sher Afgan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, told reporters Tuesday that the attackers appeared to be in contact with handlers in Afghanistan. He said the attackers belonged to the banned Lashker-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi group, an Islamic militant group affiliated with al-Qaida.
Neither Lashker-e-Jhangvi nor any other group has claimed responsibility for the attack. But the Islamic State group and breakaway Taliban faction Jamaat-ul Ahrar have claimed responsibility for past attacks in Baluchistan. Lashker-e-Jhangvi has mainly targeted members of the minority Shiite sect of Muslims.
The attack started when between four and six gunmen opened fire as they rushed the hostel at the police training center in a suburban area of the provincial capital of Quetta.
“They were rushing toward our building firing shots so we rushed for safety toward the roof and jumped down in the back to save our lives,” one of the police trainees told Geo television.
Security was tight Tuesday morning around the training center and hospitals.
Haq, the top health official, said many of the trainees were killed when the gunmen detonated explosive vests. He said the death toll was expected to climb, as many of the injured were in critical condition.
Gen. Afgan said the attackers may have had inside help, although he did not give details. “This is an open war and when you have enemy inside and outside, they can easily exploit the situation,” he said.
He said the security forces and police were clearing the area and searching for any possible hidden attackers.
Baluchistan has been the scene of a low-intensity insurgency by Baluch separatist groups for more than a decade. Islamic militants also have a presence in the province that borders Afghanistan.
The provincial home minister, Sarfaraz Bugti, said one attacker was killed by security forces and two died when they detonated their explosive vests.
He said that about 700 trainees were at the base when it was attacked.
Baluchistan police chief Ahsan Mahboob told reporters that four gunmen attacked the training center, attempting to enter the hostel housing the trainees. A gunbattle erupted when the guards resisted, he said.
A statement issued by the military put the number of attackers at up to six.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack. The group’s spokesman, Muhammad Khurasani, said in a statement that the shooters returned to their hideout after the attack.