Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan rocked by blasts

TERRORIST ATTACKS At least 25 people were killed in two separate bomb blasts in Rawalpindi in which officials saw the hand of al-Qaeda and the Taliban


Two suicide bombings yesterday ripped through a military bus and a market near the Pakistani army headquarters, killing 25 people in the latest attacks aimed at destabilizing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The bombers struck minutes apart in sensitive areas of the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, a coordinated strike that officials said bore the hallmarks of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and the Taliban.

The Pakistani military and the government have suffered a string of attacks since the raid of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, deepening the pressure on key US ally Musharraf amid a mounting political crisis.

"Initial investigations show the two were carried out by suicide bombers," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said. Army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said 25 people were killed and 68 were wounded.

The first bombing ripped apart a bus that was taking defense ministry employees to work during the morning rushhour, leaving 17 of them dead, officials said.

"It looks like a man boarded the bus at the last minute and he was not a defense employee," who then appeared to have blown himself up, Pakistani Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said.

The white 40-seater bus was almost completely destroyed by the blast, with its roof ripped open and windows blown out. Rescue workers cut open the wreckage to pull out injured people and dead bodies.

"There was a huge bang, then I saw the bus in a mangled heap. Body parts were scattered across the road and there was blood everywhere," eyewitness Mohammad Tahir said.

A police source said the bus was carrying employees from Pakistan's premier spy agency in the fight against al-Qaeda, the Inter-Services Intelligence, but this was not confirmed by other officials.

The second suicide blast about 3km away in the city's crowded Royal Artillery bazaar was timed to target army officers who use the route to reach the military headquarters, security officials said.

At least eight people were killed in that blast, but it was not clear if any military personnel were among them, Shah said. Other officials said the attacker may have been on a motorcycle. A burnt bike was found at the scene.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either blast.

At least 60 soldiers and 250 militants have been killed in Islamic extremist violence since the military's crackdown on the Red Mosque, which itself left more than 100 people dead.

Musharraf has been under mounting pressure to tackle al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, whom US officials allege have regrouped in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas bordering Afghanistan since fleeing there after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.

The sophistication of yesterday's near simultaneous blasts "shows an al-Qaeda signature," a top intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, adding that the "perpetrators had good intelligence about their targets."

He said there was evidence of other al-Qaeda plots in Pakistan, including two massive car bombs that were captured in northwestern Pakistan last month that were more high-tech than those normally used by their Taliban allies.

The army is still trying to secure the safety of more than 150 soldiers whom militants say they abducted late last week in the tribal area of South Waziristan.

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