At least 60 people were killed when three militants armed with automatic rifles and grenades attacked a police training center in the volatile southwestern Pakistani region of Baluchistan, security and rescue officials said Tuesday.
More than 120 people were injured. It was the second major attack in the provincial capital, Quetta, since August.
Security officials said militants shot a guard at the main entrance to the Baluchistan Police College about 9:30 p.m. Monday before entering the compound and taking aim at the dormitories where hundreds of cadets are housed.
At least two attackers detonated suicide vests while a third was shot dead by paramilitary soldiers, officials said.
Cadets fled the explosions by scaling the walls of the compound, many of them sustaining injuries.
The death toll by Tuesday morning had surpassed 60. Nearly all the dead were cadets, according to a rescue official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
About 700 cadets were usually housed at the facility, about 12 miles outside Quetta, although the numbers were slightly lower Monday because exams had recently concluded, Baluchistan’s home minister, Mir Sarfaraz Ahmad Bugti, told reporters.
“A complete search operation of the sprawling academy has been conducted and it is declared clear,” Bugti said after the siege, which lasted about four hours. He said that three militants had carried out the attack, although previous reports suggested the number was as high as six.
Several cadets were injured as they scaled a 10-foot perimeter wall to escape. Survivors told reporters outside the academy that the assailants’ faces were obscured by masks or scarves.
“They were carrying Kalashnikovs and firing indiscriminately on the cadets inside hostels,” one cadet said.
The bodies of slain cadets were transported to police headquarters in Quetta for a collective funeral prayer, after which they would be dispatched to their homes in different parts of the province, police officials said.
Baluchistan, a remote province along the Afghan border, is home to a long-running insurgency by ethnic separatists seeking to break away from the Pakistani state.
It has been the site of several recent attacks. The most recent came in August, when a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban – a federation of insurgent groups that aim to install sharia law in Pakistan — claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 64 people at a Quetta hospital, mostly lawyers who had gathered to mourn a slain colleague.
Pakistani authorities said they had evidence the police academy attack was carried out by militants based in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Sher Afghan, chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Baluchistan, said the assailants belonged to Lashkhar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, a militant group affiliated with Al Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban that has attacked Pakistani security installations.
“We have intercepted communications which showed they were in contact with their handlers in Afghanistan,” Afghan said.
The Pakistani Taliban issued a statement Tuesday claiming responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for the deaths of its members whom security forces had “killed ruthlessly, and it will continue till the complete promulgation of Islam in the country.”
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which the State Department designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2003, is a Sunni Muslim extremist group that has claimed responsibility for some of the worst sectarian attacks in Pakistan’s recent history. In 2013, the group said it was behind an attack on a pool hall in Quetta that killed nearly 100 people, mostly members of Pakistan’s Shiite minority.
In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned the police academy attack and said the U.S. “will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region to combat the threat of terrorism.”
The academy has come under attack before, in 2006 and 2008, when attackers fired rockets into the compound.
Baluchistan is Pakistan’s least-developed province and a key region for China’s ambitious $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a package of infrastructure projects that aims to link its western province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea via a deepwater port at Gwadar.
Concerns have been raised about Pakistan’s ability to ensure security for construction teams in restive Baluchistan, where the project has faced opposition.
Special correspondent Sahi reported from Islamabad and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia
10:50 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting, a statement from the Pakistani Taliban and additional background.
7:55 p.m.: This article was updated with a revised death toll, comments from Maj. Gen. Sher Afgan and background about the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group.
6 p.m.: This article was updated with a revised death toll and the Baluchistan government’s attribution of the attack to Al Qaeda-linked militants.
5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with revised death and casualty tolls and with more information about the attackers.
This article was originally published at 4:30 p.m.