Attack in Pakistani capital kills senior military officer, driver

By Karin Brulliard and Shaiq Hussain
Friday, October 23, 2009

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Gunmen on a motorbike opened fire on an army jeep traveling through thick traffic in the Pakistani capital Thursday, killing a senior military officer and his driver, authorities said.

The morning attack in Islamabad, which police officials said was probably carried out by Islamist militants, displayed a new tactic in insurgents' continuing assaults on Pakistan's security forces. It was the latest in a chain of attacks in recent weeks, and it came as the army entered the sixth day of a major ground offensive to purge Taliban fighters from the volatile tribal region where authorities say the violence has been plotted.

It was unclear whether or why the brigadier, Moinuddin Ahmed Haider , was targeted. Haider was on his way to a military office in nearby Rawalpindi, according to Tahir Alam, a senior police official. A military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly, said Haider was a top commander of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Sudan and had returned to Pakistan in recent days because his father-in-law had died.

The gunmen managed to flee, and there was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the attack. Alam said police suspected militants linked to the Pakistani Taliban, which the military is fighting in the border region of South Waziristan.

"It could be an act of revenge on the part of militants who are angry over the military offensive," Alam said of Haider's killing. Security analysts and officials said the surge in militant attacks is an effort to halt the operation.

Almost two weeks ago, a band of fighters laid siege to the army's fortress-like headquarters in Rawalpindi and held dozens of people hostage. In successive assaults, militants have simultaneously attacked three security installations in Lahore and bombed an army convoy and a police station.

The bloodshed has frayed nerves and prompted security clampdowns in major cities. After a bombing at an Islamabad university on Tuesday, all educational institutions closed for two days. The nation's Supreme Court announced Thursday that its building was off-limits to anyone without "legal business." Holidays for police personnel have been canceled, and police checkpoints have increased.

Shaiq Hussain is a special correspondent.

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