PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide car bomb devastated Pakistan’s main spy agency building in the northwest Friday, killing at least 7 people and striking at the heart of the institution overseeing much of the country’s anti-terror campaign.
The blast in Peshawar was the latest in a string of bloody attacks on security forces, civilian and Western targets since the government launched an offensive in mid-October against militants in the border region of South Waziristan, where al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out.
Security forces guarding the Inter-Services Intelligence agency building opened fire on the attacking vehicle to stop it, but the bomber was able to detonate his explosives, said an intelligence official.
The early morning blast, heard across the city, destroyed much of the three-story structure and many cars on the street outside. Most of the dead were guards trying to protect the complex, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
An Associated Press reporter on the scene within minutes saw several dead or badly wounded bodies being taken away. Seven bodies and 35 wounded people were admitted to the nearby Lady Reading Hospital, police officer Ullah Khan said.
Just over an hour later, another suicide car bomb wounded 10 people at police station in Bakakhel, a town in the semiautonomous tribal regions, intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because of the nature of their work.
The government has vowed that the surging militant attacks will not dent the country’s resolve to pursue the offensive in South Waziristan, where officials say the most deadly insurgent network in Pakistan is based. The army claims to be making good progress in that campaign.
The ISI agency has been involved in scores of covert operations in the northwest against al-Qaida targets since 2001, when many militant leaders crossed into the area following the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan. The region is seen as a likely hiding place for Osama bin Laden.
Its offices in Peshawar are on the main road leading from the city to Afghanistan. The agency was instrumental in using CIA money to train jihadi groups to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Despite assisting in the fight against al-Qaida since then, some Western officials consider the agency an unreliable ally and allege it still maintains links with militants.
Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are waging a war against the Pakistani government because they deem it un-Islamic and are angry about its alliance with the United States.
The insurgency began in earnest in 2007, and attacks have spiked since the run-up to the offensive in South Waziristan.
Areas in and around Peshawar have experienced the brunt of the recent militant attacks. A car bomb exploded in a market in Peshawar at the end of October, killing at least 112 people in the deadliest attack in Pakistan in over two years.
On Oct. 10, a team of militants staged a raid on the army headquarters close to the capital, Islamabad, taking soldiers hostages in a 22-hour standoff that left nine militants and 14 others dead.
The U.S. has urged Pakistan to persevere with its South Waziristan offensive because militants have used the area as a base to attack Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Militants have also targeted convoys in Pakistan delivering supplies to soldiers in Afghanistan. Attackers fired rockets at a group of tankers near the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday that were delivering fuel to U.S. and NATO troops. One driver was killed and five tankers were torched, said local police chief Bedar Ali Magsi.
Around 80 per cent of all nonessential supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan after landing at the Arabian Sea port of Karachi. NATO and U.S. officials say the attacks do not affect their operations.