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Suicide bomber strikes police building in Pakistani capital

October 10, 2008|Laura King | Times Staff Writer

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — A suicide bomber bearing a box of sweets managed to penetrate one of the most heavily secured police enclaves here Thursday, wrecking a residential building that housed anti-terrorism police and injuring half a dozen officers.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, 10 people were killed when a roadside bomb, apparently planted by insurgents, hit a police bus transporting prisoners, and airstrikes by suspected U.S. unmanned aircraft killed at least nine people near the Afghan border.

By the standard of recent attacks in the country, the toll in the police barracks bombing in the capital was light: The bomber was the only fatality. But the bold strike against such a well-fortified target was seen as an emphatic show of defiance by Islamic militants.

The box of sweets, delivered just before the blast, contained a note demanding an end to military offensives in the tribal lands along the Afghan border where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have found sanctuary, intelligence officials said. The note was written in Pashto, the language spoken in the tribal areas.

Police were trying to find out how a civilian car managed to drive unchallenged more than half a mile inside the compound, which contains numerous checkpoints. The driver apparently set off the explosives moments after delivering the sweets.

The attack, which sheared the corner walls off the three-story brick barracks deep inside the sprawling police compound, was symbolic not only in location but also in timing. It occurred as Pakistani lawmakers were receiving a second day of closed-door briefings from senior military officials about the government's confrontation with insurgents.

Among the senior officials appearing before lawmakers were army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the incoming head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, the main spy agency.

One reason there were so few casualties in the bombing was that nearly all the anti-terrorism police had been deployed throughout the capital to guard against attacks during the parliamentary session. The city was on extremely high alert, with many major streets cordoned off and blast barriers erected in front of government buildings.

Some analysts saw the special parliamentary session as the first real effort by the new government to try to formulate a coherent strategy for confronting the insurgents. The militants have not only staged a campaign of suicide attacks in Pakistan, but they also have sent fighters to attack Western troops in Afghanistan.

The parliamentary session was to continue Monday.

Suicide bombings have become an almost daily occurrence in Pakistan, but the capital was particularly shaken by a massive blast Sept. 20 that destroyed the Marriott Hotel, which had been a gathering place for foreigners and Pakistani elites. More than 50 people were killed, and some international organizations ordered employees' dependents out of the country.

Many of the suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks, which have killed more than 1,200 people in the last year, have been concentrated in Pakistan's troubled northwest. Thursday's roadside bombing took place in the Dir region, not far from the tribal areas.

Like many such attacks aimed at the police and military, it claimed civilian lives as well. Four children passing by were killed, along with two police officers and four prisoners aboard the bus. Ten people were injured.

Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani condemned both the roadside bombing and the police barracks attack, saying they pointed to the urgency of the threat Pakistan confronts.

The government has been grappling with the question of how much latitude to allow the United States, its chief ally, in staging unilateral attacks in the tribal areas. Over the last two months, U.S. forces have carried out more than a dozen airstrikes and one ground raid targeting militant leaders.

Thursday's airstrikes in western Pakistan involved homes in the villages of Tappi and Dande Darpa Khel. Some of the dead were believed to be foreigners, a term used by Pakistani authorities to describe insurgents from Arab countries or Central Asia.

Pakistan's official stance is that such attacks are a violation of its sovereignty, but most people here believe that the pro-Western government has given at least tacit permission for such strikes.

The U.S. attacks are extremely unpopular among Pakistanis, who generally believe that the strikes have merely galvanized militants to carry out more suicide bombings against civilian targets.

Some lawmakers said they would seek an explicit explanation of the government policy on U.S. strikes on Pakistani soil.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

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