Suicide attack kills 3 outside Pakistani press club

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Karin Brulliard
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- Three people were killed Tuesday in a suicide bombing outside a club for Pakistani journalists in this northwestern city, as Islamist militants continued a two-month-old spree of violence that has further destabilized this politically fragile nation.

At least 20 people were wounded in the attack, which occurred after a young man approached the gate of the Peshawar Press Club and a police guard attempted to search him. The man then detonated his explosives, killing the guard, a club accountant and a bystander, said Shamim Shahid, the press club's president.

The bombing came as political turmoil roils Pakistan, distracting the weak civilian government from its battle against a rising insurgency that unleashed a campaign of violence across the nation in October. President Asif Ali Zardari has faced calls to resign since a Supreme Court decision last week threw out an amnesty that had shielded many top government officials, including Zardari, from graft charges.

Militants have said that the attacks are in retaliation for a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban in a mountainous region near the Afghan border. Peshawar, the volatile capital of the province edging that region, has been hit hardest by the violence. Though most attacks have targeted security forces, militants have also struck a market, a mosque and now -- for the first time, authorities said -- reporters in the city.

Pakistani journalists are "facing the wrath of terrorists" because they publicize militants' bad deeds, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a government spokesman for the North-West Frontier Province, who spoke to reporters at the scene.

The attack Monday sent shock waves through Pakistan's media community, though journalists in Peshawar said they were not surprised. The press club, a popular gathering spot for journalists in the restive city, had received recent threats and had boosted its security in response, Shahid said.

He said the measures probably kept the bomber from entering the club and exacting a greater toll.

"The press club was on the terrorists' hit list," said Yousaf Ali, secretary of the Khyber Union of Journalists. Ali, like his colleagues, donned a black armband to commemorate the victims of the attack.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company