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'Lahore attacker belongs to Baitullah Mehsud's group'

By M Zulqernain in Lahore
March 31, 2009 12:36 IST
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The prime suspect in the terror attack on a police academy near Lahore has revealed that all his accomplices were Afghans and information provided by him, a Pakistani Taliban operative, has led to the arrest of some "local facilitators", the investigators said on Tuesday.

Gul Khan alias Ishrat Khan, a bearded man in his twenties who was captured by security forces while trying to target helicopters near the training centre on Monday, is an operative of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and came to Lahore a few months ago to carry out the attack, the officials probing the incident said.

"Khan belongs to Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's group and came to Lahore from Afghanistan a few months ago. He carried out the attack with his fellow countrymen in connivance with local facilitators," Deputy Inspector General of Police Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera, who is part of the investigation team, told PTI.

"Acting on information gleaned from Khan, we have taken some facilitators into custody during raids in different areas early this (Tuesday) morning," Sukhera said.

He said there appeared to be only five attackers - three blew themselves up to avoid capture, one managed to escape and the fifth one was Khan. Khan and his accomplices had rented a house in Manawan area, where the training centre is located, a couple of weeks ago to prepare for the attack.

Sukhera, who is also a part of the team investigating the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3 that left eight persons dead and injured over 20 others, said the Taliban commander Mehsud was also involved in that incident.

"Our investigations so far reveal that a well-trained group of 10 to 12 terrorists came from Waziristan and completed their mission with the help of local facilitators. They managed to flee after the successful completion of their mission," Sukhera said.

"Mehsud's involvement in these anti-Pakistan activities had increased in recent times, Sukhera added.

Pakistan has had troubled relations with Afghanistan, with the latter often accusing the Pakistani Taliban of being involved in terrorist attacks in its territory. Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik too confirmed Mehsud's involvement in the assault on the training centre and said the attack was planned in the South Waziristan tribal region, a stronghold of the local Taliban.

Malik also did not rule out the involvement of a "foreign hand". At least eight police recruits and a civilian were killed and over 90 others injured in Monday's attack on the police training centre at Manawan on the outskirts of Lahore.

The siege of the finally ended when the terrorists involved were killed or captured after an eight-hour operation. In spite of intelligence reports last week that Mehsud had dispatched some 20 foreign militants for attacks targeting law enforcement agencies, foolproof security measures were not adopted at the Manawan centre, sources said.

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M Zulqernain in Lahore
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