By Abdul Sattar
(QUETTA, Pakistan) — Militants wearing suicide vests stormed a Pakistani police academy in the southwestern city of Quetta overnight, killing at least 59 people, mostly police cadets and recruits, and waging a ferocious gunbattle with troops that lasted into early hours Tuesday.
Pakistani officials feared the death toll could rise further, as the four-hours-long siege — one of the deadliest attacks on Pakistan’s security forces in recent years — left 117 wounded, some of them in critical condition.
The assault caught many of the recruits asleep in their dorms and forced cadets and trainers to jump off rooftops and run for their lives to escape the attackers.
By mid-day Tuesday, conflicting claims of responsibility emerged. ISIS, which is waging war in Syria and Iraq where it has declared a self-styled caliphate, posted a claim on the group’s media arm, the Arabic-language Aamaq news agency. It said three ISIS fighters killed 60 police recruits in Quetta but the claim was not confirmed by Pakistani officials and ISIS did not offer any previously unknown details about the assault.
Earlier, a little-known breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Hakimullah group, also issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. Pakistani officials, doubting the group’s capabilities in staging such a coordinated and spectacular assault, also could not confirm that claim.
While most of the casualties were police cadets and others at the academy, some of the army personnel who responded to the assault were also among those killed, said Shahzada Farhat, police spokesman in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
The attack in Quetta began at 11:30 p.m. on Monday, said Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti, with the militants shooting and killing a police guard at the watch tower before storming into the academy, located on the outskirts of Quetta.