Lahore: Pakistani security forces took control of a police academy in Lahore on Monday after gunmen rampaged through the centre's parade ground, killing up to 20 people before holing up inside for hours.
"The operation is over. Four terrorists were killed and three arrested," Interior Ministry Secretary Kamal Shah told Reuters. He said 89 policemen were wounded but the number killed was still being determined.
Television news channels showed jubilant police shouting praise to God and firing in the air, soon after an intense burst of firing inside the academy.
Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province, said authorities had reports of four people confirmed killed, although television news channels put the number of dead at 20, including cadets.
"It was like doomsday; it was every man to himself. Every boy was trying to race to safety," one young cadet with bandaged hands told reporters at a hospital.
The latest brazen attack will heighten fears about mounting insecurity in nuclear-armed Pakistan. The assault came less than a month after gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team in Lahore, killing six police guards and a bus driver.
Those gunmen escaped. One wounded policeman described how the attackers struck while police recruits were going through their regular morning drill on the parade ground in the eastern city.
"A grenade hit the platoon next to ours ... then there was continuous firing for about 20 minutes," the policeman told reporters gathered round his hospital bed. "A man in light-coloured clothes--I think they were white--stood in front of us, firing at us. They wanted to do as much damage as possible."
Islamist militants have launched a campaign of violence to destabilise the Muslim nation of 170 million people, and the one-year-old civilian government's ability to meet the challenge.
US President Barack Obama made support for President Asif Ali Zardari's government a centrepiece of a review of policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan that was announced on Friday, and which made annihilation of al Qaeda the United States' principle objective.
Army and paramilitary troops laid siege to the training centre for hours, firing from rooftops of nearby buildings, while gunmen returned fire and threw grenades to keep police back.
Before the siege ended, Punjab police chief Khawaja Khalid Farooq said one of the suspected attackers had been caught. Footage showed police kicking a bearded man on the ground before leading him through a throng of journalists.
Reports said the suspect was caught with a grenade in his possession and had an Afghan passport, though a cadet who fled the carnage said he heard the attackers speaking a dialect common to southern Punjab.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab province. Despite the attack in Lahore, Pakistani stocks and the rupee firmed as investors registered relief that a recent political crisis had subsided.
Attacked during morning drill
Television channels said several hundred trainees were at the centre when the attackers struck. Taseer said some wore masks. One witness told Reuters the gunmen attacked in groups of three or four from all sides, and lobbed grenades before opening sweeping fire on cadets assembled on the parade ground.
Another wounded policeman recounted how he escaped when the gunmen burst into a room and began firing indiscriminately. "I jumped from the second floor," he said. "There were dead bodies all over the place."
One television station showed pictures of about a dozen police lying on the parade ground. Some appeared to be lifeless while others were crawling to cover.
An army helicopter circled overhead, and police and soldiers were seen carrying wounded to ambulances. A police armoured personnel carrier (APC) earlier tried to enter the compound and an exchange of fire, including what appeared to be a grenade explosion, broke out, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.
The APC then withdrew. Militant violence has surged in Pakistan since mid-2007, with attacks on security forces and government and Western targets. While there have been attacks in all Pakistan's big cities, most violence has been in the northwest, near the Afghan border.