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October 11, 2009

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10 killed after gunmen invade Pakistan army headquarters

GUNMEN wearing military uniforms and wielding assault rifles and grenades attacked Pakistan's army headquarters yesterday, sparking a ferocious gunbattle outside the capital that left four of the assailants, two senior officers and four other soldiers dead, authorities said.

Two of the attackers managed to infiltrate the heavily fortified compound in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, and troops were trying to flush them out hours after the initial assault, an intelligence official said. A news agency reporter at the scene heard four gunshots from inside the compound, long after an army spokesman said the situation was under control.

The audacious assault was the third major militant attack in Pakistan in a week and came as the government said it was planning an imminent offensive against Islamist militants in their strongholds in the rugged mountains along the border with Afghanistan.

It showed that the militants retain the ability to strike at the very heart of Pakistan's security apparatus despite recent military operations against their forces and the killing of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA drone attack in August.

The attack began shortly before noon when the gunmen, dressed in camouflage military uniforms, drove in a white van up to the army compound. They tried to force their way inside, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said.

The assailants shot at the guards at one checkpoint, killing some of them, and then jumped out of the van and ran toward a second checkpoint, he said. Abbas said the guards were likely confused by the attackers' uniforms.

The heavily armed attackers then took up positions throughout the area, hurling at least one grenade and firing sporadically at security forces, said a senior military official inside the compound.

After a 45-minute gunfight, four of the attackers were killed, said Abbas, who claimed the assault was over and the situation "under full control."

But at least two more gunmen had slipped into the headquarters compound and eluded security forces for several hours, according to an intelligence official. The fighting killed four soldiers as they closed in, he said.


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