A bomb exploded near an intelligence office in central Pakistan yesterday, authorities said, damaging the building and killing at least 12 people amid a surge of extremist violence that has prompted the US to offer additional aid in the country’s battle against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The bombing in Multan signaled a relentless determination on the part of the militants, who — despite being pressured by a major army offensive in one of their Afghan border havens —have sustained a retaliatory campaign since October that has killed more than 400 people. On Monday, bombings elsewhere in the country killed 59 people.
TV footage from Multan showed several severely damaged buildings in the neighborhood, some with their facades ripped off. Ambulances wailed as security forces flooded the zone, where a Federal Investigation Agency office was also located.
The apparent target of the blast was a building housing an office of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.
Authorities still had not determined how the attack was carried out.
Rizwan Naseer, the official in charge of the area’s government-run emergency service, told a Pakistani news channel that the attack killed 12 people and wounded 30 people. It was not immediately clear how many were intelligence agents.
The attack came as US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Washington was ready to work more closely with Pakistan as soon as Islamabad expressed willingness.
“The more they get attacked internally ... the more open they may be to additional help from us. But we are prepared to expand that relationship at any pace they are prepared to accept,” he said.
Early yesterday, suspected US missiles struck a car carrying three people in the Taliban-riddled North Waziristan tribal region, two intelligence officials said. The region neighbors South Waziristan, the focus of the latest Pakistani army offensive, and is believed to be where many of the Taliban have fled to avoid the military onslaught.
The identities of the three were not immediately clear.
Most of the militant attacks in recent weeks have been directed at security forces, though several have targeted crowded public spaces such as markets, apparently to create public anger and increase pressure on the government to call a halt to the South Waziristan offensive.
The Taliban generally claim responsibility for attacks on security officers, but not those that kill civilians, though they — or affiliated extremist groups — are suspected in all the strikes.
Late Monday, twin blasts and a resulting fire ripped through the Moon Market, a center in Lahore that is popular with women and sells clothing, shoes and cosmetics. Lahore police chief Pervaiz Lathore said yesterday that the death toll in the blasts had reached 49, with more than 150 people wounded.
Authorities initially said both bombs at the market were believed to be remote-controlled, but they later said a suicide bomber was suspected to have detonated at least one of them.
“Nobody knows whether they will come home alive or not,” said Khalid Mahmood, a 52-year-old taxi driver in Lahore.
“Bloodshed is spreading in the city, people are afraid and worry about their future,” Mahmood said. “Life is becoming miserable, there is fear and threats to our life everywhere ... We are very worried about our children — we feel restless until they come back from school.”
“You never know when the curse, the terror will hit and where. I lost several friends in the Moon Market bombing. Just 15 minutes before the blasts, I passed through that market,” said Suhail Iqbal, a 48-year-old filmmaker.
Also on Monday, a suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a courthouse in Peshawar.
Peshawar has been a more frequent target of the militants. Of all the attacks since the start of October, the deadliest occurred in Peshawar, where at least 112 people were killed in a bombing at a market.
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