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Dozens Dead After Gunmen Storm Pakistani Police Training Center

Oct 25, 2016
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to hear now about a terrorist attack outside a city in Pakistan. It's a place that's something of a crossroads for militant groups of all kinds. Quetta is the home of Afghanistan's Taliban leaders in exile, along with other militant groups. The surrounding province is in the throes of a violent separatist movement. All of which meant that it wasn't exactly a surprise when terrorists attacked a police academy and killed more than 60 cadets who were sleeping. This morning, funeral prayers are being held for the victims. And for more, we reached NPR's Philip Reeves in the capital, Islamabad.

Good morning.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning. This started shortly before midnight. Between four and six gunmen showed up, we believe, shot dead a guard who was in a watch tower. They entered the police academy, and then they stormed the dormitories. The cadets who were sleeping inside didn't have access to arms. Some of them hid under their beds. Some of them jumped out the window. Some of them got onto the roof and jumped off there.

The security services rushed to the scene. It took five hours, though, before the operation was over and all the attackers were dead. Two of these attackers detonated suicide vests, and along with the dead attackers, there were of course 60 odd people plus a 118, we're told, who were injured, some of them very badly.

MONTAGNE: And of all the possible groups or entities there in that area, what do we know about who might have done this?

REEVES: Well, Quetta is in Balochistan, and Balochistan has for some years now been at the center of a separatist insurgency. But in this case, a very senior security official, the head of the Frontier Corps in Balochistan, which is a paramilitary force, says that they intercepted communications between the attackers and their handlers who he says were in Afghanistan next door. And he says these intercepts suggest to him that this was probably done by an offshoot of a group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

Now, Renee, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is usually associated with extremely violent attacks on Pakistan's Shia minority. But it also shares the view of al-Qaida and ISIS that they aspire towards creating a caliphate. Maybe the attack took place in that context. But there's another report that's coming out this morning that ISIS itself was behind this. So at this stage, we don't know.

MONTAGNE: And Pakistanis, how are they reacting to this? I mean, a huge death toll, cadets - what's the reaction?

REEVES: Renee, this has happened at a time when parts of Pakistan, for example Islamabad where I'm sitting now, have become more peaceful and more relaxed. That's largely because for the last two and a half year the Pakistani army has been cracking down very hard on the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal belt adjoining Afghanistan and also in the country's biggest city, Karachi. But these attacks with mass casualties have still been going on. There have been about nine this year where the death toll has run into double figures. And the dead have included kids, families, lawyers, civil servants, college students, so people here feel strongly about that. And they feel very angry about it and want something done.

MONTAGNE: And does this also, though, mean trouble for the government, an attack like this?

REEVES: Yes. Well, the government is under a lot of pressure right now. The prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has problems on a number of different fronts. There's a crisis in relations with India. The Indians have been accusing Pakistan of being behind militant attacks in Kashmir, and now we're bound to hear Pakistanis accusing Indians of being behind this attack on the police academy. He's also facing a big protest next week from a leading opposition figure in the streets of Islamabad.

And his relationship - and this is crucial - his relationship with the Pakistani military is not in good shape at all at the moment, partly because the army is awaiting the appointment of a new army chief and partly because it's been reported - although denied - that the civilian government has been pressuring the Pakistani army to crack down on militant groups that have been operating in Afghanistan and in Kashmir. So that relationship's going badly, and we can expect the Pakistani army to be pressuring Nawaz Sharif to help it to do more to crack down on this group, whatever group it turns out to be that carried out the attack on the police academy.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Philip Reeves speaking to us from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.