Eight hostages freed at Pakistan Army HQ: Report

By Xinhua,

Rawalpindi : Eight hostages were freed late Saturday by militants who attacked the Pakistani Army headquarters here, killing six soldiers, a local TV channel reported.

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Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said earlier that four to five militants were holding up to 15 security personnel and civilians inside a building near the army headquarters in this garrison city and the security forces were trying for their safe release.

DPA adds: Abbas said more than two insurgents managed to sneak into the army base and took hostage “between 10 and 15, including some civilian employees of the headquarter” around 11 hours after the initial raid.

But he denied the assailants were inside the premises of the army base. He claimed they were holed up in a small security building near it.

Four assailants and a passerby also died in one of the boldest militant attacks carried out in Pakistan, a day after a suicide bombing left 53 people dead and more than 100 injured in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

In Saturday’s attack, militants wearing military uniforms reached the forward security post near the army base. Driving in a white van, they killed or wounded the guards and then attacked the second post near the building.

“Six soldiers and four terrorists are dead while five troops are injured,” Abbas said, adding: “The terrorists were armed with grenades and automatic weapons.”

Police in Rawalpindi – which is adjacent to the capital, Islamabad – said a civilian also died in the shootout, which continued for around 50 minutes.

Earlier the spokesman refuted the claims that the assailants had made any security personnel captive.

Some media reports said Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was present at the military headquarters when the militants attacked.

The general apparently survived the incident unscathed, as a government statement later in the day said he met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Islamabad to discuss the security situation.

Zardari condemned the raid and vowed that “such terrorist acts cannot weaken the national resolve to fight the menace of terrorism till its complete elimination,” according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan.

Television footage showed army helicopters flying overhead with snipers on board. Commandos took positions on nearby buildings.

A purported spokesman of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of more than a dozen terrorist outfits, claimed responsibility in a phone call to Geo television.

The TTP has its main bases in the lawless South Waziristan tribal district, but it also has a presence across Pakistan through various extremist groups.

“They (rebels) are under siege and surrounded, particularly in South Waziristan, and this attack seems a desperate attempt to release the pressure,” said a former head of the country’s army Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Ashraf Javed Qazi.

Pakistani troops are preparing to conduct a major offensive in South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan.

Anticipating the operation, Islamist insurgents have intensified attacks on civilian, official and foreign targets.

On Friday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car in a busy commercial area of Peshawar. The death toll in the deadly bombing rose to 53 Saturday, medical officer Muslim Khan said.

Seven children and a woman were among those killed in the explosion, which also damaged 30 vehicles and 60 shops in the nearby market.

Five days ago, a suicide bomber killed five employees of the UN’s World Food Programme in an attack on its office in Islamabad.

“The terrorists are trying to press the government for negotiations with them,” Qazi said. “They should be eliminated instead.”