ISLAMABAD - A group of heavily armed suicide assailants stormed a government agriculture research center and adjoining university hostel in northwestern Pakistan Friday, killing at least 9 people and wounding more than 35 others.
Pakistani police and counterterrorism units swiftly surrounded the complex in Peshawar and began a rescue operation. The gunfight with terrorists lasted several hours and killed three militants.
Provincial police chief Salahuddin Mahsud later told reporters investigators were trying to determine whether a fourth body retrieved from the site was also that of a militant. He said police and members of anti-terrorism squad were among the wounded.
Many of the victims of Friday’s attack were students and those being treated in city hospitals received bullet injuries, doctors said.
The police chief said authorities have retrieved small arms and ammunition, 20 hand grenades and three unexploded suicide vests from the site of the encounter.
“Security forces engaged the attackers within minutes of the assault began, preventing them from exploding the suicide vests,” Mahsud said. "Otherwise, the death toll would have been in hundreds," he added.
The outlawed Pakistani Taliban took credit for ordering the deadly assault. The anti-state group said they targeted a facility linked to the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, and killed a number of its officers, claims officials rejected as propaganda.
A Pakistan military spokesman told reporters the attackers were in contact with their leadership in Afghanistan during the siege.
Major-General Asif Ghafoor added that fugitive members and leaders of the Pakistani Taliban are using Afghan soil for attacks against his country. He said that an Afghan military delegation is currently visiting Pakistan and holding talks with top army officials about enhancing border security to stop militant attacks on both sides of the border.
Witnesses and officials said the attackers, all men, arrived at the university in the early morning wearing traditional female burqas for hiding their weapons and bombs.
The militants lobbed grenades through windows of hostel rooms before opening fire at students who were still asleep because of an Islamic holiday.