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Authorities ambushed in spate of attacks

Militant squads have launched attacks in Pakistan that left 40 people dead, storming police offices in Lahore and bombing targets in the northwest to escalate 11 days of carnage.

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The coordinated assaults underscored the power of radicals to strike at the heart of Pakistan and the weakness of government security forces expected to launch a new offensive against the Taliban near the Afghan border.

A key ally in the US-led fight against terror, nuclear-armed Pakistan has seen its economy and security services battered by two years of Taliban-linked attacks that have escalated with over 160 people killed since October 5.

Armed suicide bombers

Minutes apart, between 9am (1400 AEDT) and 10am on Thursday, gunmen armed with suicide vests and grenades stormed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore and a police training school and commando academy on the outskirts.

“They were very young – 19 to 20 years old. Three of them were clean shaven and one had a small beard,” police recruit Dildar Hussain, 21, told AFP from his hospital bed as he was treated for arm and collar-bone fractures.

The training centre in the suburb of Manawan had been attacked on March 30, leaving eight police recruits dead. The FIA building in Lahore was also bombed in March 2008, killing 16 people.

Pakistan’s government said the country faced a new war after a slew of militant attacks in the political heartland of Punjab, away from the insurgent hotbed of the northwest tribal region.

‘Guerrilla war’

“They are involved in guerrilla war. First they were active in NWFP (North West Frontier Province). Now they are engaged in Punjab. They are terrorists paid to destabilise Pakistan,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, he said suspicion was falling on Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) movement and al-Qaeda and homegrown Islamist groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad.

US President Barack Obama on Thursday signed a bill giving $US7.5 billion ($A8.2 billion) to build schools, roads and

democratic institutions in Pakistan as part of a strategy to discredit extremists in the nation and in Afghanistan.

White House deputy spokesman Bill Burton said Obama was concerned by Thursday’s loss of life in attacks showing “once again that the militants in Pakistan threaten both Pakistan and the United States”.

Suspects arrested

About 300 officials and private mourners attended a public funeral for 11 policemen, who lay in wooden caskets draped with the Pakistani and Punjab flags, as befits Muslim custody to bury the dead on the same day they died.

The government brushed aside criticism that it had no strategy to crush a militant resurgence after the killing of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in August with security forces on full alert.

Two suspects were arrested, a suicide jacket and grenade recovered in the capital Islamabad although one man escaped, police official Bani Amin told AFP.

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