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Pakistani Taliban Head Claims Hand In Attack


The Pakistani city of Lahore is in mourning today. This after militants attacked a police academy yesterday. At least a dozen people died and scores were injured. Today the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed his men carried out the assault. His motive - revenge for American missile strikes into the tribal belt along the Afghan border. What's more, he is now reportedly threatening to attack Washington. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Lahore and filed this report.

(Soundbite of prayer)

PHILIP REEVES: There are seven coffins draped in Pakistan's green and white national flag. A Muslim cleric leads the funeral prayers. Senior police and government officials stand before him in a line, heads bowed.

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REEVES: The young men in the coffin died during yesterday's militant assault on a police training center in the city of Lahore. They were almost all of them police cadets. They were doing their usual early morning paroles, when a group of gunmen hurling grenades and firing Kalashnikovs stormed in.

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REEVES: The siege lasted eight hours. Lahore is Pakistan's cultural capital. The attack on the academy was the second in the city in quick succession. Less than a month ago gunmen attacked a bus, carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team. The cricketers survived, six policemen and a driver did not. Writer and commentator Hasan Askari Rizvi believes there's a reason Lahore has been targeted.

Professor HASAN ASKARI RIZVI (Writer): Punjab has the strongest economy in Pakistan and city of Lahore is the major center in the province of Punjab. Therefore it is being seen that now these groups are really trying to challenge the Pakistani state and trying to undermine Pakistani state by doing this kind of activity.

REEVES: Who are these attackers and who's behind them? Top of the list of suspects is Baitullah Mehsud. Mashud is a militant leader who operates in South Waziristan at the southern end of Pakistan's tribal zone bordering Afghanistan. Some Pakistani officials say he masterminded the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He is also blamed for numerous other recent attacks in Pakistan, mostly against the security forces. The U.S. is offering five million dollars for information leading to his arrest. Meshud responded by threatening an attack on Washington D.C.,.

That's one of several things that a number of international news organization say Meshud told them today when they spoke with him by phone. Another is a claim by Meshud that his group carried out the police academy attack as revenge for U.S. missile strikes into Pakistan's tribal belt. But is it true?

Dr. SHAUKAT MAHMOOD (Political Analyst, Pakistan): Obviously, he is the prime suspect. One of the guys arrested is an Afghan. They have claimed responsibility. So, they, you know, obviously must remain the prime suspect. But all I'm saying is, one should not just, you know, look in that direction and close every other window. I don't think so.

REEVES: That's political analyst, Shaukat Mahmood. He says there's another possibility that can't be ignored. Four months ago militants attacked the Indian city of Mumbai, killing more than 170 people in a ruthless three-day rampage. It's widely believed that attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba. Lashkar is a militant organization created several decades ago by Pakistan's intelligence services to fight a low level proxy war against India over the disputed region of Kashmir. It's now thought to be linked to al-Qaida. After the Mumbai carnage, acting under intense international pressure, the Pakistani authorities rounded up senior Lashkar leaders. Mahmood believes the Lahore attack could be an attempt by Lashkar to strike back.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Lahore.

NORRIS: And that report was compiled with reporting assistance from Zunaid Khan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.