KABUL, Afghanistan — The brazen occupation of a Pakistani police academy Monday by heavily armed gunmen near the eastern city of Lahore was the latest indication that Islamist terrorism, once confined to Pakistan's northwest tribal belt, now threatens political stability nationwide.
At least six cadets were killed, three militants blew themselves up, and at least three unidentified bodies were recovered. Four militants were arrested, officials said.
The precisely orchestrated assault by a squad of young men, which took commandos nearly eight hours to quell, was also a likely sign that Islamist militant groups in Punjab province, once tolerated and even supported by the Pakistani state to fight in India and Afghanistan, have turned openly against the government.
The assault in the once-peaceful Punjabi heartland came less than three weeks after an attack in Lahore in which gunmen fired on a visiting Sri Lankan cricket team, killing seven people.
The latest attack raised new questions about the vulnerability of Pakistan, a nuclear-armed Muslim state with a weak civilian government that only recently emerged from a decade of military rule. Lahore, home to more than 10 million people, is generally considered the cultural heart of the country.
"The realization that this problem is now no longer confined to a buffer zone with Afghanistan must dawn on everyone in Pakistan," said Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani American military expert, speaking from Washington.
Rehman Malik, the government's top civilian security official, told journalists in Islamabad, the capital, that there are "thousands of trained workers of banned militant organizations present in Pakistan who could be used by foreign elements." He mentioned three armed Islamist groups — Lashkar-i-Taiba, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jaish-i-Muhammad — and said the perpetrators had staged an "assault on the integrity of the country."