Gunmen burst into a court in a busy shopping area in the heart of Pakistan’s capital yesterday, killing at least 11 people in a suicide-bomb and gun attack likely to shatter any prospect of meaningful peace talks with Taliban insurgents.
The Pakistani Taliban, who have declared a month-long ceasefire to pursue peace talks with the government, immediately distanced themselves from the attack, as well as a separate blast on the Afghan border that killed two soldiers.
An explosion reverberated in central Islamabad just after 9am, followed by bursts of gunfire.
Police said at least 30 were wounded.
A judge was among those killed.
“There was a blast, then there was a lot of gunfire. Gunmen were spraying bullets at everyone,” said Faisal Ali, a businessman who witnessed the attack.
Even as the Taliban declared willingness to talk peace, almost daily attacks have continued around Pakistan in past weeks, showing that the central Taliban leadership is not entirely in control of its operations.
“We have already declared a ceasefire for a month and we stand by our promise,” a Taliban spokesman said.
Bomb attacks are rare in Islamabad, the leafy and hilly seat of Pakistan’s government.
The judge, Rafaqat Awan, was killed on the spot. He had rejected a petition last year to file a murder case against former Pakistani president Perzez Musharraf over his order to storm a hardline mosque in Islamabad in 2007.
Many radical Islamists hold a grudge against Musharraf over the storming, in which more than 100 people were killed, and any official seen as obstructing their fight for justice is likely to be on their hit list.
During yesterday’s attack, two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the courtroom where a hearing had just started, police said.
Two other attackers were killed in the ensuing gunfight with police.
Police said gunmen fired at random targets in the area after the initial explosion.
Shortly afterward, police blocked entry and exit points to the area, a maze of narrow, dusty streets lined with one-room shops and offices.
Commandos in camouflage knocked on doors and secured street corners as they combed the area for more militants.
Police secured the area an hour later and the market resumed normal operations.
At the court, broken glass and charred human remains littered the site of the blast at the F8 market area as residents and police rushed around in bloodstained clothes.
A severed leg lay atop the rubble. Pools of blood and severed body parts were scattered on the floor of several offices.