Pakistan army HQ under attack

RAWALPINDI: Gunmen wearing military uniforms and wielding assault rifles and grenades attacked Pakistan’s army headquarters today, sparking a ferocious gunbattle outside the capital that killed four of the assailants, two senior officers and four other soldiers, authorities said.

Two of the attackers managed to infiltrate the heavily fortified compound in the

garrison city of Rawalpindi, and troops were trying to

flush them out hours after the initial assault, the military said. An Associated Press reporter at the scene heard four gunshots from inside the compound - long after an army spokesman said the situation was under control.

The audacious assault was the third major militant attack in Pakistan in a week and came as the government said it was planning an imminent offensive against Islamist militants in their strongholds in the rugged mountains along the border with Afghanistan.

It showed that the militants retain the ability to strike at the very heart of Pakistan’s security apparatus despite recent military operations against their forces and the killing of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA drone attack in August.

Pakistani media said the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the ongoing assaults strengthened the government’s resolve to launch the offensive.

“We have been left no other option except to go ahead to face them,” he told Dawn television. Militants regularly attack army bases across the country and bombed a checkpoint the outside army compound two years ago.

The attack Saturday began shortly before noon when the gunmen, dressed in camouflage military uniforms, drove in a white van up to the army compound and tried to force their way inside, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. The assailants shot at the guards at one checkpoint, killing some, and then jumped out of the van and ran toward a second checkpoint, he said. Abbas said the guards were likely confused by the attackers’ uniforms.

The heavily armed attackers then took up positions throughout the area, hurling at least one grenade and firing sporadically at security forces, said a senior military official inside the compound. The official, who said top army officials were trapped in the compound during the assault, spoke on condition of anonymity because he

was not authorised to speak

to the media.

After a 45-minute gunfight, four of the attackers were killed, said Abbas, who told the private Geo news television channel the assault over and the situation “under full control.” But an hour later, gunshots rang out from the compound, and Abbas confirmed that two more gunmen had eluded security forces and slipped into the headquarters compound in Rawalpindi.

2 independent news channels off air

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan took two news channels off the air on Saturday that had been covering attempts by soldiers to capture two militants who broke into army headquarters in an attack on the complex.

Geo and SAMA channels, known for critical reporting of the government, were blocked from broadcasting on Saturday evening. Government officials were not available for comment. A message from Pakistan’s media regulatory body appeared on those channels announcing it was temporarily suspending transmission of “independent news TV channels” until further notice.

Several other TV news channels also known

for their hard-hitting reporting continued to broadcast. Like other news channels, the stations had been covering an attack early Saturday on the army headquarters compound by Islamist militants. Pakistan blocked the channels when then President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November 2007. — AP