RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, (Reuters) – Pakistani commandos stormed a building near army headquarters yesterday and freed 22 hostages being held there by suspected Taliban militants, a military spokesman said.
Three hostages and four of the gunmen were killed, said the spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas.
“They were in a room with a terrorist who was wearing a suicide jacket but the commandos acted promptly and gunned him down before he could pull the trigger,” Abbas said. “Three of the hostages were killed due to militant firing,” he said.
Soldiers were searching for other gunmen in the building, he said, adding there were believed to have been more than five of them there.
Yesterday’s brazen attack on the tightly guarded headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi came as the military prepared a major offensive against the militants in their northwestern stronghold of South Waziristan on the Afghan border.
The strike at the heart of the powerful military is likely to revive fears for nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability at a time when the United States needs its help in the campaign against an intensifying insurgency in Afghanistan.
A blast and gunfire erupted before dawn as soldiers assaulted the security office building near the army headquarters where the gunmen and their hostages were holed up. A Reuters reporter saw three ambulances leaving the area.
Gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked the army headquarters yesterday killing six soldiers in a gun battle at a main gate of the sprawling complex.
Four of the gunmen were killed and two of their wounded colleagues captured in the initial attack, security officials said. But other gunmen fled and took hostages in the office building nearby.
Pakistani Taliban militants linked to al Qaeda have launched numerous attacks in Pakistan over the past couple of years, most aimed at the government and security forces, including bomb attacks in Rawalpindi.
On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a U.N. office in Islamabad, and on Friday a suspected suicide car-bomber killed 49 people in Peshawar — an attack the government said underscored the need for the all-out offensive against the Taliban.
“What happened in Peshawar, Islamabad and today, all roads lead to South Waziristan,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said yesterday. “Now the government has no other option but to launch an offensive.”