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Militants 'aimed to free prisoners'

Islamist militants who attacked a police facility in the heart of Pakistan's largest city were attempting to free comrades they believed were detained there, a senior minister has said.

The coordinated assault in Karachi, far from Taliban and al-Qaida heartlands, showed the ability of militants to strike back despite being hit by US drone strikes and Pakistani army operations.

Sindh government spokesman Sharmila Farooqi said 15 people, including five police officers, were killed. About 100 people were injured.

A gang of around six gunmen managed to penetrate a high-security area of Karachi that is home to the US Consulate, two luxury hotels and the offices of regional leaders.

They opened fire on the offices of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) before detonating a huge car bomb that destroyed the building and others nearby. The police offices housed a detention facility that was believed to be holding criminals.

The CID takes the lead in hunting down terrorists in Karachi. Earlier this week, the agency arrested six members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an al-Qaida linked group blamed for several high profile attacks in recent years. The suspects were presented before a court on Thursday.

"The terrorists were well prepared and they had came here to rescue their associates. But under a strategy, we had not kept those men at this building. So their plan failed," said Qaim Ali Shah, chief minister of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

He did not say how he knew that the gang were attempting a rescue and not simply attacking the building, the type of strike that militants in Pakistan have often carried out in the past. He and other officials have not said whether the attackers escaped or were killed in the blast.

Islamist militants are known to have found shelter among Karachi's 14 million people, and there have been occasional attacks on Shiite Muslims, whom al-Qaida and the Taliban believe to be infidels, as well a blast last month at a Sufi shrine.

But the city had largely escaped a wave of violence last year that saw many attacks in Lahore, Peshawar and other cities.

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