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18 killed in Pakistan attack

Group detonates bomb in Karachi police compound

By Huma Imtiaz
New York Times / November 12, 2010

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KARACHI, Pakistan — Armed attackers stormed a police compound in a heavily guarded quarter of central Karachi last night, detonating a car bomb in a direct strike at the government’s counterterrorism forces.

The blast was felt for miles. The interior of a three-story building that housed counterterrorism offices collapsed, and a residence for officers’ families was heavily damaged, authorities said. As of last night, with rescuers still searching the rubble, the death toll stood at 18, with at least 100 people wounded and others missing. Women and children were among those hurt, hospital officials said.

That a small group of attackers was able to penetrate the quarter — engaging police officers in a firefight to get the bomb-laden vehicle through the compound’s outer gate — was telling. The area, also home to two five-star hotels, government offices, and the US Consulate, is one of the most heavily protected in the city. Police officers patrol there, and mass transit is prohibited on some streets.

Karachi, a city of 18 million people, has a history of sectarian and ethnic strife, violent political clashes, and organized crime. In the past, militant groups have struck at mosques and Western targets. But attacks on government buildings here have been rare.

Intelligence sources said the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the bombing of the compound. It housed the Crime Investigation Department, which is responsible for combating terrorism.

The group, an umbrella for Islamist militants, originated in the border region near Afghanistan several years ago. But Pakistan’s military has been assaulting some of its strongholds, and Pashtuns, the Taliban’s base, have been migrating from those regions to Karachi in increasing numbers. Various other hard-line Islamic groups have helped make the city a base for the Pakistani Taliban.

There were suspicions that the attack was in retaliation for a recent series of arrests of militants. Babar Khattak, a top police official, said the counterterrorism unit had arrested nine militants in the past few days.

There were conflicting reports about whether those suspects were in the compound at the time of the attack. Khattak said they were not, but Fayyaz Leghari, Karachi’s police chief, said several militants were there.

He said they were suspected of being members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned sectarian group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.

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