Suicide bombings spread in Pakistan
More than 50 die as attacks intensify
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The wave of violence that has gripped Pakistan in recent days spread to new parts of the country and featured more ferocious tactics yesterday, with suicide bombers targeting a mosque, a police academy, and a convoy of Chinese engineers in attacks that killed more than 50 people.
The strikes yielded the highest single-day death toll since the government stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad last week. More than 120 people died during the standoff at the mosque, and more than 160 have been killed in the attacks that have followed.
The severity of the violence has stunned Pakistanis. It has also left the country groping for direction as the military, pro democracy moderates, and radical extremists vie for control in a struggle that is likely to intensify. The military has vowed a fresh offensive and is moving troops into position, while extremists have declared jihad against the president, General President Pervez Musharraf, and his government.
An attack last night at a mosque during evening prayers that killed at least 18 people, including three children, heightened the sense of disarray. Police officials said a suicide bomber had mingled among the worshipers before detonating his charge.
Suicide attacks inside mosques are relatively rare in Pakistan. The mosque targeted yesterday is located on an army base in the northwestern town of Kohat, and many of the casualties were army recruits, police officials said.
Earlier in the day, a convoy of Chinese engineers being escorted through southern Pakistan by security forces was rammed by a car bomber and then pelted with gunfire in a crowded market area. The attack, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan and hundreds of miles from all of the previous events, claimed 30 lives. While the Chinese escaped unharmed, seven police officers were killed and the rest of the dead were believed to be civilians.
The day's violence began with a suicide strike at a police academy in the northwestern town of Hangu, with seven people dying.
Yesterday was the fifth consecutive day of deadly attacks. Most of them have been carried out by suicide bombers, but the targets have varied widely, with security forces, political activists, and civilians all among the victims.
The string of attacks follows the collapse over the weekend of a 10-month-old peace agreement between the government and tribal elders in the North Waziristan area along the Afghan border. US officials have strongly criticized that deal, saying it gave Al Qaeda a safe haven to train and plot for attacks against the United States.
But retired Pakistani Brigadier Mehmood Shah, a former official in the tribal areas, said it is Pakistan that is getting the first taste of the terrorists' renewed strength.
"The lethality of the attacks has increased many-fold. They're well coordinated," said Shah, who until 2005 was responsible for tribal area security. "The government painted a make-believe world about these tribal areas that did not exist -- that if you leave them alone, everything will be fine."
Now, Shah said, the government has little choice in how to react. "To get back in a strong position, you have to fight your way in," he said. "In the long run, there's no other way of dealing with the problem."
Sources within Pakistan's armed forces have said that they are planning a major operation against extremist fighters and that they are readying troops and supplies. For the second straight night, residents of North Waziristan reported hearing shelling yesterday , though it was unclear who or what had been hit.
The United States has been prodding Musharraf to take a strong stand and has been providing the Pakistani military with intelligence to help with targeting, military sources said.
Yesterday, White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to rule out the possibility that the United States would carry out strikes in Pakistan. "We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets," he said.