Taliban Behind Lahore Attack

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LAHORE, Pakistan - The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility Thursday for a deadly terror attack on police and intelligence agency offices, saying it was revenge for the army's current offensive against the insurgents in the country's northwest.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, told The Associated Press in a telephone call that Wednesday's suicide attack in Lahore "was in response to the Swat operation where innocent people have been killed."

About 30 people were killed and at least 250 wounded when gunmen fired and lobbed grenades at offices of the police and top intelligence agency, then detonated an explosive-laden van in a busy street in Pakistan's second-largest city -- the intellectual and cultural heart of Punjab, the country's most populous province.

Taliban Movement

A little-known group calling itself the Taliban Movement in Punjab has also claimed responsibility for the attack.

The government announced bounties for 21 Taliban leaders in northwestern Pakistan, after blaming terrorists for Wednesday's assault.

The attack on Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, was far from the restive northwest Afghan border region where the Taliban have established strongholds in the Swat Valley.

The military launched a major offensive in Swat after the Taliban seized control of a neighboring district an a bold bid to extend their influence.

Washington and other Western allies see the offensive as a test of the Pakistani government's resolve to take on the spread of terrorism.

Deadly Assaults

Wednesday's attack was the third since March in Lahore, following deadly assaults on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and a police academy.

Officials fear insurgents may be choosing targets there to make the point that nowhere is beyond their reach.

A group calling itself Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab, or Taliban Movement in Punjab, took the blame for the bombing in a Turkish-language communique posted on Turkish jihadist Web sites Wednesday and referenced the fight in Swat, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

The claim could not be verified, and the terro group's relationship to the Taliban was unclear.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said terrorists were striking out because they were losing the fight with government forces battling to uproot extremists in the northwestern valley and tribal areas near Afghanistan.

Military Transcript

The military released a transcript Wednesday of what it said was an intercepted phone call made by the Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan, in which he sought help from gunmen in Waziristan to take revenge on military commanders in Punjab for the Swat offensive. Waziristan abuts Punjab.

Khan asked the recipient of the call, who was not identified, to target "generals or colonels from Punjab so that they feel the pain" of people suffering in Swat.

The military did not say when the call was made, or provide other details.

Officials said three suspects had been detained.

The government took out ads in several newspapers Thursday listing 21 Taliban leaders - 18 of them with pictures - and offering varying rewards for each, the lowest being around $12,400. The top bounty was $62,000 for top Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

Hospital and government officials have accounted for 15 police and 11 bystanders killed in Wednesday's attack. The tally does not include intelligence agents whose bodies were taken to a military hospital.

One intelligence agency colonel has been identified as having died, but other details of the agency's casualties are being kept secret, an intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Kahn contributed to this report.

copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Babar Dogar

Babar Dogar

Associated Press Writer

The Associated Press is the backbone of the world's information system serving thousands of daily newspaper, radio, television and online customers with coverage in all media and news in all formats. It is the largest and oldest news organization in the world, serving as a source of news, photos, graphics, audio and video.