Bloody siege at Pakistani army HQ ends with 19 dead

Pakistani commandos freed dozens of hostages held by militants at army headquarters on Oct. 11. At least 19 people died in the clash, including three captives and eight of the militants, who wore army fatigues.

CA Online and wire services

2009-10-14

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistani commandos freed dozens of hostages held by militants at the army’s headquarters on Oct. 11, ending a bloody, 22-hour drama.

At least 19 people died in the clash, including three captives and eight of the militants, who wore army fatigues. The rescue operation began before dawn, ultimately freeing 42 hostages, the military said.

The government said the siege had only strengthened its resolve to launch an offensive in South Waziristan, a tribal region along the Afghan border and a major militant stronghold. The U.S. and Pakistan's other Western allies want Islamabad to take more immediate action against insurgents, who are responsible for increasing numbers of attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Five heavily armed militants took the hostages after they and an estimated four other assailants attacked the headquarters' main gate on Oct. 10, killing six soldiers, including a brigadier general and a lieutenant colonel. The gunmen arrived in a white van that reportedly had army license plates.

No group claimed responsibility, but authorities said they were certain that the Pakistani Taliban or an allied Islamist militant group were behind the attack.

Explosions and gunshots rang out just before dawn, as commandos moved into a building in the complex and a helicopter hovered in the sky. Three ambulances were seen driving out of the heavily fortified base close to the capital, Islamabad.

Two hours after the raid to recapture the compound began, two new explosions were heard. The army said it was "mopping up" the remaining insurgents.

The hostages included soldiers and civilians. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said 20 hostages were kept in a room guarded by a militant wearing a suicide vest, who was shot and killed before he could detonate his explosives.

Overall, at least 19 people died, including six soldiers, two commandos, eight militant attackers and three captives, and several others were wounded. The final hostage-taker was caught as he set off explosives he was carrying, wounding himself, Abbas said.

Abbas identified the captured man as Aqeel, alias "Dr Usman," and described him as "the leader of the group." The name matches that of a militant suspected of orchestrating an attack in Lahore earlier this year on Sri Lanka's visiting cricket team.

A week ago, Baitullah Mehsud's successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, told journalists summoned to a briefing in South Waziristan that the Taliban would launch more attacks on military, government and other targets in the country.

[AP]

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