Bloody siege at Pakistan army HQ ends

One of the most brazen and audacious militant attacks in Pakistan’s history came to an end in the early hours of this morning when commandos freed dozens of hostages who had been held for hours in the army’s own headquarters.

The remarkable yet embarrassing 22-hour drama was concluded when troops moved in sometime before dawn to end the stand-off and release around 40 hostages who had been held overnight. Three hostages, two commandos and four militants were killed in the rescue but army officials said that one of the gunmen, named as Aqeel with an alias of Dr Usman and said to be the group’s ringleader, had been captured alive.

The hostage drama, which followed an assault by an estimated nine militants dressed in army fatigues and armed with automatic weapons on the army headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, came as troops prepare to launch a major assault on the Taliban and al-Qa’ida stronghold of South Waziristan, and it had international reverberations.

At a press conference in London today, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband voiced their concern that such insurgent attacks presented a direct challenge “to the authority of the state.” "The insurgencies that Pakistan faces are a mortal threat to that country," Mr Miliband said.

Officials had warned to expect attacks from militants in response to the operation and it even emerged the authorities had received intelligence that militants in the country’s Punjab province were planning to disguise themselves as soldiers and attack the headquarters.

As such, the assault on Saturday, in which the militants poured from a white van bearing army licence plates and shot their way into the compound, was both an embarrassment for the army and a reminder of the militants’ ability to penetrate high value targets. Last week, a suicide bomber slipped past security to kill five people at the offices of the UN World Food Programme in Islamabad while another bomber killed more than 50 people in Peshawar.

Early suspicions over this incident are being cast on Taliban-linked militants from Punjab province. A security official in Punjab said the captured gunman was believed to be a member of the notorious Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group. That group is one of several similarly-minded outfits that have increasingly forged close links with the Pakistan Taliban leadership, sheltering in the mountains of Waziristan.

The sophisticated methods deployed in Rawalpindi resembled those on display at the start and end of March in two spectacular attacks in and near the city of Lahore. On March 3, international cricket in Pakistan was dealt a grave blow when well-trained marksmen ambushed the visiting Sri Lankan team’s bus, killing eight policemen.

Just weeks later, gunmen disguised in police uniform laid siege to a police academy, before being eventually overwhelmed by paramilitary troops and police commandos. On both occasions, the handlers may have been traced to the wilds of Waziristan, but the attackers came from Punjab.

Over recent years, militants groups once nurtured by the Pakistan army to lead an anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir and vicious sectarian groups have drawn closer to the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qa’ida. Splinter groups of Jaish-e-Mohammad were recently involved in fighting against the Pakistan army in the northwest’s Swat Valley. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, considered al-Qa-ida’s franchise in Pakistan, is believed to have been involved in attacks on the Islamabad Marriott and the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Their decades of training make them a potent threat to Pakistan not just in Waziristan where many are based, but also in the heartlands. This is home to the bulk of industry and the population. There are fears that in southern Punjab in particular, where there is the heaviest concentration of madrassas, recruitment continues apace. But it remains to be seen how Pakistan will face up to a challenge emerging from not mountains along the Afghan border, but the very areas from where most of the army is drawn.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said an offensive against militant targets in South Waziristan offensive was now inevitable. “We are going to come heavy on you,” he warned the militants.

Yet as the series of recent attacks has shown, claims that military operations and US drone strikes have broken the back of the militant resistance appear utterly misplaced. Indeed, with each incident it appears the militants are learning how to better carry out their attacks, changing and updating their tactics. While the militants killed a total of 11 people in this incident in the heart of the military establishment, the death toll could have been very much worse.

In turn, it appears the training and tactics of Pakistani security forces - in stark comparison to those of Sri Lanka - remain sorely inadequate. Rawalpindi, just a few miles from Islamabad, for instance, is filled with security checkpoints and police roadblocks designed to halt such attackers on route. If it is confirmed the militants vehicle was bearing military plates, it would mean army security may have been more seriously compromised.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
techResearchers recover 100s of nude photos from second-hand smartphones
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Key Account Manager, Medical

£35000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent commission structure + Car: Charter Sele...

Account Management Strategy Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum + competitive: Real Staffing: Required skills:Previo...

Medical Customer Interface Manager

competitive: Real Staffing: My client requires an experienced Medical Informat...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice