Suicide bomber in Pakistan kills 19 at courthouse in Peshawar

Peshawar, Pakistan — A suicide bomb strike on a crowded courthouse in Peshawar killed 19 people today, the 10th bomb attack in six weeks for a city bearing the brunt of retaliation from Taliban militants battling Pakistani troops along the Afghan border.

Now in its fifth week, Pakistan’s military offensive has succeeded in retaking much of the ground held by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan, for years the militants’ primary stronghold. That success, however, has been tempered by a wave of militant attacks since early October that have claimed more than 300 lives across Pakistan.

Peshawar, a city of nearly 3 million people situated on the fringe of Pakistan’s largely ungoverned tribal areas, has been hardest hit by the violence. Suicide bombers have struck bustling markets, police stations and checkposts, and even the regional headquarters of the country’s vaunted intelligence agency. With today’s strike, the death toll from the wave of attacks around Peshawar since early October has reached at least 247 people.

Authorities said the attacker tried to push his way into the city’s Judicial Complex but was stopped by police officers at the courthouse’s main gate. When they tried to search him, he detonated a jacket filled with explosives, said Sahibzada Muhammad Anees, a Peshawar city official. At least three of those killed were police officers. The blast occurred about 10:30 a.m., a period when the building is filled with Pakistani citizens and lawyers shuttling between courtrooms. Doctors said several lawyers were among the critically injured brought to the city’s Lady Reading Hospital. At least 51 people were wounded in the attack. Authorities said the toll would have been far worse if police officers at the main gate had not stopped the attacker. Their actions marked the third time in five days that police in the Peshawar region kept an attacker from causing far greater loss of life. Suicide car bomb attacks on Saturday and Monday occurred at police checkposts on the outskirts of the city, which authorities believe were not the intended targets. Nevertheless, the wave of attacks has cast a pall on everyday life in Peshawar, where Pakistanis are limiting their trips to markets and many parents are keeping their children from attending school. Dozens of streets have been closed off with barricades.

Local officials blame much of the violence in Peshawar on the federal government’s decision to announce its intent to launch an offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan weeks before sending troops into the region. That gave militants ample time to escape and seek refuge in places like Peshawar’s suburbs. Many of the attacks hitting the city are being launched from those suburbs. “If you look at Peshawar, it’s a hub for dozens of smaller towns,” said Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based security analyst. “To create a scare, the easiest place to hit is Peshawar. What you need is penetration into the militants’ networks in the suburbs, and that’s missing right now. We don’t have the required intelligence resources. There have been arrests, but that’s not enough.”

Authorities have beefed up security throughout the city and have begun using sophisticated explosive detector equipment at checkposts, but the sheer number of entry points into the city — at least 110 — make it extremely difficult to thwart every potential bomb attack. “We are facing an extraordinary situation,” said Anees. “Police are there, but it’s not humanly possible to check each and every person.”

As reported by Alex Rodriguez and Zulfiqar Ali for the Los Angeles Times

 

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