ISLAMABAD - The mastermind of the militant assault on Saturday that shook the heart of the Pakistani military was behind two other major attacks in the last two years, and police had specifically warned the military in July that such an audacious raid was being planned, police and intelligence officials said Sunday.
The revelation of prior warning was sure to intensify scrutiny of Pakistan's ability to fight militants, after nine men wearing army uniforms breached the military headquarters complex in Rawalpindi and held dozens hostage for 20 hours until a commando raid ended the siege. In all, 16 people were killed, including eight of the attackers, the military said.
The surviving militant, who was captured early Sunday, was identified as Muhammad Aqeel, who officials said was a former soldier and the planner of this attack and others. Aqeel, who is also known as Dr. Usman because he had once worked with the Army Medical Corps before dropping out about four years ago, is believed to be a member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group affiliated with al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban.
The army has been promising to fight back against the fierce Taliban insurgency holed up in the tribal region of South Waziristan amid pressure from the Obama administration, which is about to secure a major aid package that would give $1.5 billion a year to the government here.
The attack on the headquarters was a signal that the Taliban insurgency had penetrated deeply into Punjab province, where the military headquarters are located, and was no longer confined to the wild tribal areas that serve as the operational center for the Pakistani Taliban.
The militant leader, Aqeel, led the commando operation against the Sri Lankan cricket team during its visit to Lahore earlier this year, according to a senior police officer in Punjab involved in the investigation into that assault. He was also behind the suicide bombing that killed the army surgeon general in 2008, military officials said.
In a warning to the authorities in July, the criminal investigation department of the police in Punjab said the militants who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in March would make a similar kind of assault on military headquarters. The warning, contained in a letter to the leading intelligence agencies, predicted militants would dress in military uniforms and would try to take hostages at the headquarters.
The contents of the letter were published in the Oct. 5 editions of a leading newspaper, The News, and were confirmed Sunday by a senior official of the criminal investigation department.
The letter specifically said that militants belonging to the umbrella group of the Pakistani Taliban would join forces with two other groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad, to attack the military headquarters. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the Saturday attack in a telephone call to the television network Geo.
The assault on the headquarters represented a severe breakdown in military security and intelligence for the army, which is regarded with the highest esteem among the Pakistani public and is widely considered to be the one institution that can keep the fractured country together.