ISLAMABAD - Taliban militants on Thursday killed nine police officers in the second deadly attack on Pakistani security forces less than a week.
The Taliban attackers, armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades, stormed into a building in the eastern city of Lahore, killing the police officers then escaping on motorbikes and in a car.
Many of those killed were from Pakistan's northwestern region, close to Taliban strongholds along the Afghanistan border. They were in Lahore training to become prison guards.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesperson told local media the assault was in response to the mistreatment of jailed Taliban members.
Police chief Habibur Rehman told reporters that Thursday’s dawn attack was similar to another on a Pakistani army camp in Gujrat, north of Lahore, on Monday. Seven soldiers and police died in that raid.
He says the attackers were the same and suggests the killings are linked to Pakistan’s war against terrorism. He says Pakistan has to fight these terrorist groups and their allies and will step up security as a result of these latest incidents.
Lahore and Gujrat are in the eastern province of Punjab, an area that had been relatively free of the chronic militant violence often seen in Pakistan’s northwest.
Muhammad Amir Rana, director of Pakistan’s Institute for Peace Studies, said the latest incidents indicate that Tehreek-e-Taliban - the Pakistani Taliban - are still active in the area. And, he says, their tactics are changing.
"The most important thing which we have seen in these two attacks is that now TTP and its affiliates are using targeted killing more frequently rather than suicide bombers," he said.
Rana said there appeared to be no direct link between the attacks and militant anger at the recent agreement between Washington and Islamabad to reopen NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.
But he said the Taliban’s focus on Pakistan security forces indicated it was punishing them for their willingness to deal with the United States.
"You may link it with their perception about the Pakistan military and security forces that they are now ally of U.S. and NATO and deserve the same punishment as the aggressive forces in Afghanistan - this is part of the narrative they follow," he said.
Attacks in Punjab province had decreased in the last year. Rana said the drop in violence may have led to a certain relaxation in the security forces’ surveillance, opening an opportunity for a Taliban attack.
The Pakistani Taliban has killed thousands of military, police and civilians in repeated attacks from its strongholds in the northwest. In 2009, Pakistani troops swept through parts of the region and pushed the militants back to the border with Afghanistan. Hundreds of militants were killed and captured in the operations.