Suicide bombing kills 35, injures dozens in Pakistan

By Shaiq Hussain
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 2, 2009; 2:30 PM

ISLAMABAD -- A suicide bomber killed at least 35 people and injured dozens of others near a government bank in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday as the Pakistani army pressed an offensive against Taliban militants in a lawless tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

The bomber rode a motorbike close to a line of people waiting to cash their paychecks and set off a huge blast, police and eyewitnesses said.

The bank is close to the Pakistani army's headquarters, and many of those waiting in line were reported to be military personnel. At least four soldiers were killed and nine wounded in the attack, the military said.

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, met with Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at his Rawalpindi headquarters on Monday, but U.S. officials declined to say whether McChrystal was there at the time of the blast.

Hours later, another bomb exploded in the eastern city of Lahore as police were inspecting a vehicle at a checkpoint. Two suspected suicide bombers in the vehicle were killed and 15 people were wounded, including at least seven police officers, two of them critically, news agencies reported.

In the rugged border region of South Waziristan, meanwhile, the army pushed ahead with the offensive it began last month against Islamist extremists, capturing the Taliban stronghold of Kaniguram and killing a dozen more militants, according to the army's chief spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

According to a senior police official, Aslam Tarin, the bank bombing "was a suicide blast" that occurred around 10:40 a.m. local time in Rawalpindi's Shalimar Plaza. He said most of those killed were government employees, including some security personnel.

"It was a huge explosion, and I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet," said Basharat Ali, an eyewitness. "I was walking near the bank at the time of the blast and fell on the ground. . . . When I regained my senses, I saw blood all over the road and body parts scattered here and there. I also saw several injured persons crying for help."

Among those killed in the blast, Ali said, were a woman and two children who were sitting in a car outside the bank.

The blast shook other buildings, breaking windows and causing people to flee what some initially thought was a massive earthquake.

"First there was a deafening sound," said Imran Omar, a travel agent with a second-floor office near the bank. "Then the building started shaking. I and other people in the building came out and saw dead bodies lying in front of the bank. I was shocked and couldn't count them, but they were many."

In an attack last month on the nearby army headquarters, militants took dozens of military officials hostage and held them for nearly 24 hours before commandos stormed the site and rescued them. At least 23 people were reported killed in the fighting.

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