Militants attack office in Pakistan, 5 killed

PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Militants wearing suicide vests and disguised as policemen attacked the office of a senior political official in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing five people, police and hospital officials said.

In Pakistan’s southwest, meanwhile, several thousand Shiite Muslims protested for a second day following a massive bombing targeting the minority sect that killed 84 people. The protesters have refused to bury victims of the attack until authorities take action against the militants who were responsible.

The target of Monday’s attack in the city of Peshawar was the office of the top political official for the Khyber tribal area, a major militant sanctuary in the country. The militants were disguised in the same type of uniform worn by the tribal policemen who protect the compound.

Four militants opened fire on the policemen protecting the compound and managed to get inside, said senior tribal policeman Sajad Hussain. Once inside, three of the attackers detonated their suicide vests, said Hussain. It’s unclear what happened to the fourth attacker.

The bodies of five people killed in the attack have been brought to a local hospital, along with seven others who were wounded, said hospital spokesman Jamil Shah.

The dead included four tribal policemen and one elderly civilian, said police officer Noor Mohammed Khan. The wounded included four tribal policemen and three civilians, he said.

An eyewitness, Shahid Shinwari, said the militants launched the attack when a van carrying prisoners arrived at the office compound. The militants tried to free the prisoners from the van, he said.

The compound is open to members of the public on Mondays, and it was filled with dozens of people who became trapped inside by the attack. Soldiers and police responded to the attack, and the people trapped inside were eventually freed.

Local TV footage showed them walking out of the compound with their hands raised as they were led out of the compound to an area for screening. White smoke from the explosions billowed out of the compound.

In the southwest city of Quetta, over 4,000 men and women staged a protest in an area of the city where a bombing targeting Shiites ripped through a produce market on Saturday. The death toll from the attack rose to 84 on Monday, after three people died from their injuries, said senior police officer Fayaz Saumbal.

Nearly 1,000 others protested in a different part of the city, at the location where a bombing at a billiards hall that also targeted Shiite Muslims killed 86 people in January.

Members of the country’s minority sect have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunni militants who do not consider them to be real Muslims. The most prominent among the attackers has been Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for both of the recent bombings in Quetta. Rights groups and members of the Shiite community have accused the government of not doing enough to crack down on the militants.

Many of the attacks have occurred in Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital. The province has the largest concentration of Shiites in the country. Many are Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago.

Azizullah Hazara, the vice chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a political group representing Hazaras, threatened Sunday to hold widespread protests unless the government finds those responsible for the most recent attack and arrests them within 48 hours.

Protesters have also demanded the army take over control of Quetta and launch a targeted operation against the militants who have been attacking Shiites.

After the bombing in January that killed 86 people, Shiites camped out in the street for four days alongside the coffins of their loved ones. Eventually the country’s prime minister ordered a shake-up in the regional administration, putting the local governor in charge of the whole province. But the governor has expressed frustration, saying the recent bombing was the result of a failure of the provincial security and intelligence services.

Shiite organizations also protested the attack in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, which is located on the country’s southern coast. Much of the city was shut down as groups complied with a call to hold a strike to demonstrate against the bombing.