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Pakistani Taliban claims Lahore attack

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a deadly assault on a police academy and threatened to attack Washington.

"We claim responsibility for the attack. This was in retaliation for the ongoing drone attacks in the tribal areas. There will be more such attacks," Mehsud told AFP in a telephone conversation from an unknown location.

"Very soon we will take revenge from America, not in Afghanistan but in Washington, which will amaze the entire world," Mehsud warned.

Attackers armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests Monday stormed the training centre near Pakistan's cultural capital Lahore, triggering an eight hour gun battle that only ended when they were overpowered by security forces.

Seven police cadets, a civilian and four attackers died.

Mehsud is Pakistan's most-wanted militant and heads the much-feared Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The former government in Islamabad accused him of masterminding the 2007 assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.

The US State Department has branded him a "key Al-Qaeda facilitator" in the semi-autonomous South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan.

Mehsud said he had set up a council of mujahedeen (holy warriors) bringing together different militant groups "to step up attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan."

He dismissed the US reward for his arrest.

"The maximum they can do is martyr me," he said.

Mehsud also claimed responsibility for a suicide attack outside a special branch police office in Islamabad, which killed one person on March 23, and a recent assault on a police post in Bannu in northwest Pakistan.

His group is influential in both North and South Waziristan as well as the Bajaur tribal district to the north, which Pakistani security forces said had been effectively cleared last month following a major offensive.

Mehsud commands thousands of fighters across the tribal areas on the Afghan border, although official estimates vary on the precise number. His capacity for launching attacks outside the region is questionable.

US President Barack Obama has described Pakistan's restive border regions as the "most dangerous place in the world" for Americans, warning that Al-Qaeda was plotting catastrophic new attacks.

More than 30 US drone strikes have killed over 330 people since August 2008 in Pakistan, which the United States has put at the heart of its war against Al-Qaeda in a bid to turn around the flagging war in Afghanistan.

The US military as a rule does not confirm drone attacks but the armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy unmanned aircraft in the region.

The United States last week offered a five million dollar reward for the location or arrest of Mehsud.

The militant leader has conducted cross-border attacks against US forces in Afghanistan and poses a clear threat to American people and interests in the region, the US Rewards for Justice website said.

Pakistan accused Mehsud loyalists of orchestrating a January 2007 attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed two people.

Copyright 2009 AFP Global Edition
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Author:AFP
Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Mar 31, 2009
Words:496
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