A suicide car bomber killed three policemen and a child yesterday in an attack on a police station in a northwestern Pakistani town, police said.
Al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani militants have carried out numerous attacks on members of the security forces over the past couple of years, and they stepped up strikes after the army launched an offensive on their main bastion in October.
The blast in the town of Karak, 200km southwest of Islamabad, came as police were on the alert for attacks on religious processions to mark the anniversary of the Prophet Mohamed’s birth.
“The blast destroyed part of police station and a nearby mosque,” police official Gul Sadi Khan said, adding that three policemen had been killed. “Thirteen people have been wounded and we fear more people are trapped under the debris.”
Another police official said a child passer-by had also been killed.
Karak is in North West Frontier Province, which has borne the brunt of attacks over the past year.
The Pakistani Taliban, allies of the Afghan Taliban, have lost much ground in army offensives over the past year.
The were pushed out of the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, and in October the army began a big offensive in the militants’ South Waziristan bastion on the Afghan border.
Pakistani action against militants on the border is seen as crucial for efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, where US forces are spearheading one of NATO’s biggest offensive against the Afghan Taliban.
Fears of militant attacks on the Saturday holiday hurt trade in Pakistani stocks the previous day with the Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index slipping 0.1 percent, as other regional markets rose, and turnover at a two-month low.
Fifty-seven people were killed in Karachi in a militant attack on a Muslim congregation marking the holiday in 2006.
The attack sparked violence in Pakistan’s commercial capital and the stock exchange shut for a day.
Meanwhile, Pakistani security forces said that at least 17 militants were killed on Friday in a battle with Taliban militants during a military operation in the northwest.
The gunfights took place during a joint operation by the Pakistani army and paramilitary forces outside the garrison city of Kohat.
“Today, 17 ‘terrorists’ have been killed and one security personnel got injured in the Pastawana area of Kohat,” the paramilitary Frontier Corps said.
“A huge cache of arms, explosives and eight suicide jackets have also been recovered,” it said.
The death toll could not be verified by independent means as the area is closed because of military operations.
Under US pressure, Pakistan is waging multiple military offensives against Islamist militant havens.
Its northwest tribal belt is branded by Washington the most dangerous place in the world and the chief sanctuary of al-Qaeda.
Police in Karachi said late on Friday they had arrested three suspected members of the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group and seized 20kg of explosives and detonators from them.
The three had planned to attack “important religious events,” said senior city police official Fayyaz Khan.
In a separate incident, gunmen fired on a religious procession on the outskirts of the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, wounding four people, police said.