Truck bombing shakes Pakistan's biggest city
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Gunmen and a vehicle bomber attacked a police building in the center of Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, late Thursday, killing at least 18 people and injuring scores, officials said.
In what appeared to be a well-organized assault, about six militants opened fire on a criminal investigations office in Karachi's "red zone," a highly secured area that houses the provincial minister's residence, elite hotels and the U.S. Consulate. That was followed by a massive truck bombing that was heard across the city and that reduced much of the police building to rubble.
Violence is common in the southern port city, which is riven by ethnic and sectarian rivalries. But large-scale bombings are rare, and the attack stirred fears that the Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist groups long thought to be hiding and raising funds in Karachi, home to about 18 million people, are broadening their reach.
The police building is occupied by the city's lead terrorism-tracking agency, which prompted speculation that the assailants were seeking to free detainees inside. But the Sindh province police chief, Salahuddin Babar Khattak, told journalists in Karachi that no terrorism suspects were being held there at the time.
In recent years, security forces have been a prime target of the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups, most of which are based in the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Islamist hard-liners view the security forces as pawns in a U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Karachi's ruling party, the Muttahida Quami Movement, has accused the city's large population of Pashtun migrants - the ethnic group from the border region that spawned the Taliban - of bringing Islamist militancy across the country to Karachi. Local Pashtun leaders dismiss the assertion as discriminatory.
The bombing left a 40-foot-deep crater, crumpled the multi-story police building and sparked chaos. Television reports showed people digging in the darkness for victims buried under rubble and mobbing two city hospitals where the injured were being treated.
Authorities said at least 100 people were injured. Zulfiqar Mirza, the provincial home minister, told reporters that as many as 350 people might have been in the building at the time of the blast and that casualties were expected to rise sharply.
"We are in a war situation," Sharmeela Farooqi, an adviser to the provincial chief minister, told Express 24/7 News. "Everybody is extremely vulnerable, whether it is in the cities or whether it is on the border in the tribal areas."
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.