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Pakistani commandos were engaged in a fierce gunbattle at a police compound in Lahore Monday, after grenade-wielding militants attacked the station, killing at least 20, wounding scores, and holding hostage many more.
The police station raid Monday morning was the latest in a string of deadly attacks by militants, which have heightened concerns about the stability of this nuclear-armed Muslim nation. It also comes on the heels of President Obama's announcement last week of a new US counterterror strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That plan includes more military and economic aid to push Pakistan to face down its own militants.
Media reported conflicting casualty numbers, and it was not clear who was behind today's attack. Dawn, an English-language Pakistani paper, citing police officials, said the attack began around 7:30 a.m., and that up to 20 gunmen were holding more than 400 hostages.
The Times of London reports that Pakistani Army and police forces overpowered the militants , ending a siege that lasted seven hours. The newspaper reports that 20 people were killed, and one of the attackers was taken into custody.
The New York Times described a scene of chaos as the Pakistani military attempted to regain control of the station on the outskirts of Lahore. (Click here to see map of the region from the US State Department.)
About 10 to 14 gunmen held several hundred cadets hostage as police and the attackers exchanged fire inside the center. Armored police vehicles carrying police and rangers drove into gates of the center after the attackers took control and explosions and bursts of heavy gunfire could be heard sporadically.
Scores of police vehicles and ambulances crowded around the high walls of the academy as police rushed to the compound.
The attackers were reportedly firing from the roof of the school and a police helicopter was hovering overhead. Police sharpshooters positioned at nearby buildings were firing into the compound.
The paper quoted an expert who said the attack appeared "well-planned."
"This took many weeks to plan, someone should have smelled this was going to happen," said Masood Sharif, the former chief of intelligence in Lahore.
The BBC reported that confusion reigned outside the police station for fully 90 minutes, before elite commandos finally arrived to take on the militants. It quoted eyewitnesses to the attack, which took place as some 800 unarmed police recruits were doing morning drills.
The militants entered the sprawling compound, apparently by scaling the boundary wall, and threw grenades at the parading trainees.
Ilyas, a police constable and eyewitness, told reporters: "We were exercising in the training ground inside the compound when we heard a blast."
"A great cloud of dust blew over us and I felt something hit my face. When I touched my face there was blood all over."
Like so many modern-day disasters, this one unfolded almost entirely on live TV. Pakistanis were transfixed by images of the confrontation, which included images of dead police recruits lying on the ground inside the compound.
Xinhua reported that India put its own forces on alert after the attack, and urged Pakistan to take stronger action against terrorism. This morning's attack occurred just 60 km (37 miles) from the border with India's northern state of Punjab.
"We condemn the attack in Pakistan. Pakistan will have to continue dismantling the terror infrastructure on its soil which is a threat to several countries," Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma said.
The Associated Press wrote that the attacks come as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is struggling with domestic political turmoil and sharp pressure from the US to bring extremist groups to heel.
Pakistan's Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik told state-run TV that Pakistan's police are not equipped to fight the terror wave.
"In our country, at our different borders, arms are coming in, stinger missiles are coming in, rocket launchers are coming in, heavy equipment is coming — it should be stopped," Malik said. "Obviously, whoever did this attack has attacked our country's stability."