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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two suicide bombs kill 24 in Pakistan
By Salman Masood
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
ISLAMABAD: Two powerful explosions, just minutes apart and both of them suicide attacks, rocked the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday, killing 24 people, the Interior Ministry said.
The first blast ripped through the Lahore regional office of the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan's chief federal law enforcement agency, killing 12 agency officials and nine others. A suicide bomber exploded his car packed with explosives near the entrance to the parking area outside the agency building.
In the second attack, which occurred minutes after the first explosion and several kilometers away across the city, two people drove a small pickup truck up to a house that was being used as an office for an advertising company in Model Town, an upscale residential neighborhood, according to Interior Ministry and police officials.
They exploded themselves and the truck, destroying the front of the house and damaging neighboring buildings, and killing three people, two of them children, according to the Interior Ministry.
Model Town is an affluent neighborhood where senior politicians, including Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, maintain homes. But a senior official of the Pakistan People's Party, Farahnaz Ispahani, said there was no link to the bombings and that the party's senior leadership was currently in Islamabad.
A further 170 people, including several children, were wounded in the two attacks, which set off a wave of panic in Lahore and filled many of the city's hospitals.
Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital in Punjab, the country's most populous province, had been spared the recent wave of violence that has hit Islamabad, the capital, and north-western Pakistan, but it has now been struck by three major suicide attacks this year.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility but the explosions seemed to follow a pattern of recent attacks on law enforcement officials and the Pakistani military by extremist tribal militants, according to Tariq Pervez, the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency.
"The building of FIA. was a clear target," Pervez said in an interview. "Now, the terrorists are stepping up their activity in Punjab," he said.
Pervez said extremist groups might be targeting Lahore because police officers from Punjab, including officers from the Federal Investigation Agency, were involved in the operation at the Red Mosque in Islamabad last year when government troops killed many militants who had been holed up inside.
The first blast, which occurred at around 9:20 a.m. during the morning rush hour, was so powerful that it was heard for kilometers around the city. More than two hundred people were reported to be inside the agency building at the time.
The explosion damaged many nearby buildings. The agency office is located on the busy Temple Road in Lahore, and commercial and residential buildings and a few schools are nearby.
Local news channels showed gory images of destruction caused by the twin explosions. More than two dozen vehicles, crumpled like paper, lay scattered on the road outside the agency office.
Plumes of smoke billowed out of the building, which was almost completely destroyed. Its windows were blown apart and staircases damaged. Officials warned that the eight-floor building could collapse at any time. Distraught relatives were shown standing near the debris.
In January, the Interior Ministry circulated a confidential memorandum to provincial police chiefs and officials, asking them to upgrade security surrounding several top politicians. The Interior Ministry also identified the FIA. headquarters in Islamabad as a potential target.
The memorandum warned that terrorists had made videos of several government locations and sent them to militants in the semiautonomous tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan, where the Pakistani Army is battling groups sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The FIA. office in Lahore, however, was not identified as a potential target.
This month, two suicide bombers attacked a naval war college in Lahore, killing four people, including three in the Pakistani Navy, in what was described by the government as the first suicide attack on any naval installation in the country during the recent wave of terrorism.
In January, a suicide bomber killed 23 people, most of them police officers, outside a courthouse in Lahore.
"The law enforcement apparatus is being targeted in the country," Malik Iqbal, the Lahore police chief, said in an interview on Express News, a private news channel. "This is a difficult situation."
President Pervez Musharraf, whose close alliance with the United States in battling extremists in Pakistan has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum, strongly condemned the attacks. "The acts of terrorism cannot deter the government's resolve to fight the scourge with full force," Musharraf was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency.
Musharraf announced Tuesday that he would convene the next session of Parliament on March. 17. In a direct threat to Musharraf, Zardari and Sharif, the leaders of the two major political parties, have said they would use the new session to reinstate the judges fired by the president and would seek to strip him of some crucial powers.

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