Coordinated Explosions, Gunfire Kill 13 in Northwest Pakistan

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 29, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 28 -- Insurgents used an array of tactics to kill 13 people across northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, ambushing police officers with small-arms fire, detonating explosives planted in a crowded market and attacking security checkpoints with suicide bombers.

Most of the deaths occurred in Peshawar, the largest city in the northwest, and security forces appeared to be the targets of much of the violence. The attacks marked the second consecutive day that extremists have used a combination of gunfire and explosives to terrorize a major Pakistani city. The tactics echo two major gun-and-bomb strikes in South Asia in recent years -- the Mumbai siege late last year and the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

The style of this week's strikes suggests that insurgents are becoming more sophisticated in launching coordinated attacks requiring pinpoint timing and that they are prepared to unleash their full arsenal to undermine a government they see as a tool of the United States. Taliban fighters have turned their guns against Pakistan in recent years; the Pakistani army has responded in recent weeks with a sweeping campaign in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had taken charge. Officials suggested Thursday that the Peshawar attacks were retribution for the military offensive.

The attacks in the northwest followed an assault on a police building and intelligence agency office in the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday that killed as many as 30 people. The Taliban asserted responsibility for that attack, and government officials were quick to blame the group for Thursday's attacks as well.

Police said the violence began late in the afternoon with the explosion of a bomb that had been planted on a motorbike in the Khyber bazaar in central Peshawar. "Some TV and CD shops are here that may be the target of militants," said Sajjad Shah, a shopkeeper who works nearby.

As emergency workers and police responded to the first blast, a second bomb exploded in the Qissa Khwani bazaar.

With chaos breaking out in the smoke-filled alleys between the shops, insurgents stationed on the rooftops opened fire on the police below. For more than an hour, police and commandos battled the insurgents, trading gunfire as shopkeepers and customers ran for cover. Eight people were killed. Two of the attackers were also killed, and two others were taken into custody.

Minutes after police secured the bazaars, a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. Three soldiers were killed.

Later in the evening, a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a checkpoint outside a hospital in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan. The explosion killed two people, officials said.

About 250 people have been killed in insurgent attacks in the northwest this year, according to police statistics.

In a call to the Reuters news agency, Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud warned of more strikes in Pakistan's main cities. "We plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days and weeks," he said.

Special correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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