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Students killed in gun attack on Pakistan agriculture institute

Islamist militants have stormed a provincial government complex for agricultural research in north-west Pakistan, killing 12 people including students and wounding 35 others, officials said.

Police and soldiers killed three attackers during a firefight and while clearing the complex in Peshawar, they said.

The main Taliban militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed the attack.

Police chief Salahuddin Mahsud, of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said attackers opened fire on the main gate of a provincial Agricultural Department complex, initially wounding two guards and two students.

He said three attackers wearing women's burkas then reached the gate in a rickshaw and opened fire to clear their way to the building. The ensuing fight left 12 dead and dozens injured.

Mr Mahsud told reporters after the complex was cleared that six of the dead were students and one was a guard.

He said security forces evacuated residents in armoured vehicles before the attackers could reach other buildings.

"Police and military troops engaged in a quick and well-coordinated firefight and evacuation efforts saved scores of lives, otherwise the death toll could have been much higher," he said.

TV footage showed bullets holes in building walls, bloodstains and broken glass scattered on the floor.

A comparatively small number of students and others were in the normally crowded complex at the time because Friday is a holiday, the day when Muslims celebrate the birthday of the prophet Mohammed.

Military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said the fact that Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed the attack proved it was planned in Afghanistan where the group is based. He said the attackers were in constant contact with their handlers in the neighbouring country.

Maj Gen Ghafoor added that Afghanistan's director general of military operations is in Pakistan and the issue will be taken up with him.

The attack came over a week after a suicide bomber killed top police official Mohammad Ashraf Noor and his guard in the provincial capital.

Pervez Khattak, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said: "These terrorists have no religion as they attacked on a day which is very sacred and the nation was celebrating it."

The police chief said officers and troops quickly cordoned off the site, closed in and killed the gunmen who had holed up in a building in the complex, which includes offices, a teaching institute and a hostel.

Among the wounded were two soldiers, seven policemen, a reporter and a private guard in addition to the students. Some are in critical condition, authorities said.

Mr Mahsud said dozens of students and others were rescued during the operation.

Security forces in the clearance operation seized an explosive vest, hand grenades and several assault rifles the attackers had been carrying.

AP

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