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Pakistani Taliban chief claims credit for Lahore police attack

THE commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility yesterday for a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy and said the group was planning a terrorist attack on the White House that would "amaze" the world.

Baitullah Mehsud, who has a US$5 million bounty on his head from the United States, said Monday's attack outside the eastern city of Lahore was in retaliation for US missile strikes against militants along the Afghan border.

"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone. He provided no details.

Mehsud identified the White House as one of the targets in an interview with local Dewa Radio.

Mehsud and other Pakistani Taliban militants are believed to be based in the country's lawless areas near the border with Afghanistan, where they have stepped up their attacks throughout Pakistan.

The Taliban leader also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that killed four soldiers on Monday in Bannu district and a suicide attack targeting a police station in Islamabad last week that killed one officer.

Such attacks pose a major test for the weak, year-old civilian administration of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that has been gripped with political turmoil in recent weeks.

Interior Ministry spokesman Raashid Bashir Mazari said yesterday that an investigation was under way into the attack on the police academy in Lahore, but it was too early to respond to Mehsud's claim. However, Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said on Monday that authorities had information linking the attack to Mehsud.

The gunmen who attacked the police academy killed seven police and two civilians, holding security forces at bay for about eight hours before being overpowered by Pakistani commandos. Some of the attackers wore police uniforms, and they took hostages and tossed grenades during the assault.

Earlier yesterday, a spokesman for a little-known militant group linked to the Pakistani Taliban also claimed credit for the attack and a similar ambush-style attack against the Sri Lankan cricket team earlier this month in Lahore. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the two claims.


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