At least 61 people were killed and more than 100 others wounded when militants launched an attack on a police academy in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, late Monday, according to local hospital officials.
The siege on Balochistan Police College, that usually houses about 700 cadets and is located 20 kilometres to the south of the city, started around 11:30 pm (1830 GMT). This was not the first assault on the police college, which was attacked in 2006 and 2008.
"Militants came directly into our barrack. They just barged in and started firing point blank. We started screaming and running around in the barrack," one cadet who survived told local media. More than 200 police trainees were stationed at the facility when the attack occurred, officials said.
Heart bleeds for the Quetta victims. Most were cadets. Couldn't have been even 20; had such a long life ahead of them.
— Abbas Nasir (@abbasnasir59) October 25, 2016
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but several have come forward since.
Daesh claimed responsibility on its Amaq news agency. According to local news website The Express Tribune, an unknown faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also came forward via email to local media, but the TTP spokesperson denied knowledge.
Earlier, one of the top military commanders in Balochistan, General Sher Afgun, told the media calls intercepted between the attackers and their handlers suggested they were from the militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).
The military earlier said in a statement that soldiers and paramilitary forces had arrived at the site, placing the number of militants at "five or six".
The attack appeared well coordinated, with senior law enforcement agencies saying that assailants had fired at the police training centre from five different points, another security official in the area said.
Later, the attackers entered the centre's hostel where around 200 to 250 police recruits were resting and sleeping, the security officials said.
Some cadets were taken hostage during the attack, which lasted five hours. Most of the dead were police cadets.
Additional contingents of police and paramilitary troops arrived at the training centre, situated in the sensitive Sariab Road area to carry out an operation, after three militants entered the premises.
44 shaheed 118 inj #QuettaAttack
— Sarfraz Bugti (@PakSarfrazbugti) October 25, 2016
"Forty-eight bodies have been brought to the hospital," Wasim Beg, a senior doctor at Quetta's Civil Hospital, said early Tuesday morning. Another rescue official put the death toll at 44 and further said that more than 100 others were wounded in the attack.
Provincial Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti tweeted that 44 people were killed and 118 others were wounded in the attack.
Inspector General (IG) Frontier Corps (FC) Major General Sher Afgun earlier told reporters that 20 people were killed and 65 others wounded in the attack. Afgun said that all three attackers were on a suicide mission and had been receiving instructions from Afghanistan.
The high-ranking military official further said that two militants had detonated their explosive vests, causing casualties while the third attacker was killed by security forces before he could blow himself up.
Big Question mark over security arrangement of police training centre #Quetta ? So far 43 security personnel martyred & 3 terrorists killed!
— Hashim Azam (@mhashimazam) October 24, 2016
Local news channels have reported a higher death toll.
"They first targeted the watch tower sentry, and after exchanging fire killed him and were able to enter the academy grounds," he said.
The provincial home minister further said that, "99 percent of the operation concluded within four hours since the attack began and the security forces are combing the area and waiting for break of dawn to declare the premises completely clear."
Government spokesman Anwarul Haq said that most of the cadets had been evacuated during the operation. Several military helicopters were also providing aerial surveillance during the security forces' operation.
Rescue officials said that most of the recruits had sustained gunshot wounds while others were injured while trying to jump off a roof and climbing a wall.
Urge anyone who can and is near by a hospital in #Quetta to donate blood for the injured
— Aseefa B Zardari (@AseefaBZ) October 24, 2016
Local media also reported that an emergency had been declared in all hospitals situated in and around Quetta.
The area was plunged into darkness when the counter-offensive was launched, while security personnel created a cordon and ambulances zoomed in and out, taking the injured to hospitals. Military helicopters circled overhead.
As the battle to retake the academy continued, police, civil administration officials and witnesses at the site said they had heard three blasts.
Pakistan's top-ranking military and civilian officials have repeatedly said that the insurgents and militants in the region are being supported by external forces.
10 yrs nw since I've bn anchoring/reporting, nvr heard of any othr road whch hs seen more terorism relatd incidents than Saryab Road #Quetta
— Mansoor Ali Khan (@_Mansoor_Ali) October 24, 2016
The attack came a day after motorcycle-riding militants of the outlawed Baloch Liberation Army separatist group shot dead two coast guards and a civilian and wounded a shopkeeper in a remote south-west coastal town in the same province.
In August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by both Daesh and a faction of the Pakistani Taliban killed 73 people, including many of the city's lawyer community who had gone there to mourn the fatal shooting of a colleague.
Balochistan, which is Pakistan's largest but least populated and developed province, also shares a border with Iran and a porous, disputed border with Afghanistan.
It is also a key region for China's ambitious $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project linking its western province of Xinjiang to the Arabian Sea via Pakistan.
Security problems have mired CPEC in the past with numerous separatist attacks, but China has said it is confident the Pakistani military is in control.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.