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Car bomb kills 24 at Pakistan fuel station

The explosion appears to have targeted offices of the nation's intelligence agency. More than 90 people are injured.

March 09, 2011|By Alex Rodriguez and Nasir Khan, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — A car bomb at a fuel station killed at least 24 people Tuesday in the eastern city of Faisalabad in what authorities said appeared to be an attempt to attack nearby regional offices of Pakistan's main intelligence agency.

The explosion, which was not a suicide attack, also injured more than 90 people, several of them critically, said Aftab Cheema, a Faisalabad senior police official.

The initial blast at the compressed natural gas fuel station probably triggered secondary explosions of gas cylinders, police said. Natural gas is widely used in Pakistani vehicles as an alternative to gasoline.

It appeared that militants had been hoping to cause a blast large enough to destroy surrounding government buildings, particularly the local office of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, authorities said. However, Rana Arshad, a Faisalabad police official, said no members of ISI were among the dead or injured.

"Apparently, it was an attempt to hit the intelligence agency office," Rana Sanaullah, law minister for Punjab province, told reporters. "Explosives were put in a car and it was parked there in the morning. The explosives were detonated by remote control."

The Associated Press reported that the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Military, police and intelligence facilities are frequently targeted by militants waging an insurgency against the U.S.-allied Pakistani government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari. A suicide truck bombing at an ISI complex in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed 10 people on Nov. 13, 2009. Earlier that year, a van packed with explosives razed the intelligence agency's Punjab provincial headquarters and a police building in the eastern city of Lahore, killing more than two dozen people.

In Tuesday's attack, the fuel station was leveled and a nearby office of the country's state-run airline was damaged. Television video showed charred, twisted car frames amid large piles of rubble.

"I had just driven by when suddenly there was a huge blast," said Irfan Majeed. "My car was thrown into the air. When I looked behind, I saw smoke everywhere and people crying."

Faisalabad, the hub for Pakistan's textile industry, is the country's third-largest city and is about 160 miles south of Islamabad, the capital. Although militant activity in Faisalabad is rare, Al Qaeda-allied militant groups continue to maintain sleeper cells and training compounds in parts of central and southern Punjab province.

Much of the militant violence plaguing Pakistan occurs in the country's northwest along the Afghan border, where Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have established strongholds.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

Khan is a special correspondent.

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