ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The United Nations shut all its offices Monday in Pakistan after a suicide bomber managed to breach security at one of its buildings, killing five workers and wounding several others, officials and witnesses said.
The bomber was thought to be disguised as a paramilitary soldier.
The U.N. provides vital relief to Pakistanis who have fled their homes in areas where the army is fighting Islamic extremists. The blast was at the offices of the World Food Program in a residential area of Islamabad.
It punctured a period of relative calm in recent weeks in the capital, which has been rocked by a number of explosions over the last two years since Pakistan’s religious extremists rose in violent rebellion. Foreign interests and Pakistani security personnel are the favorite target of the al-Qaeda-linked militants. The U.N. has lost other personnel to terrorism this year, and its station chief in the western city of Quetta, an American, was kidnapped and later released.
The extremists, led by the Pakistani Taliban, are demonstrating their terrorist menace again after the disarray that followed the death of chief Baitullah Mehsud in early August. The Pakistani Taliban, based in the tribal border area with Afghanistan, is under the fearsome new leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud. Pakistan is braced for a fresh spate of violence as its army is poised to launch ground operations against the Taliban’s headquarters in the Waziristan region of the tribal area. The army already has fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan’s northwest and the Bajaur and Mohmand part of the tribal belt.
Reacting to reports from U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents that he’d died in a shootout in August, Hakimullah Mehsud appears to have invited several Pakistani journalists to meet him Sunday in south Waziristan. The footage of the meeting, released Monday, seemed to show he was alive and well. Some analysts, however, claimed he was being impersonated, probably by his brother.
Mehsud railed against U.S. missile strikes on Pakistani territory, according to the footage, and he introduced a man who was with him as Qari Zafar, who has a $5 million U.S. reward on his head for his suspected involvement in a bomb attack on the American consulate in the southern city of Karachi in 2002.
Monday’s blast occurred in the lobby of the office of the World Food Program, an arm of the U.N., in an upscale residential district of Islamabad close to President Asif Ali Zardari’s personal home – which he no longer uses — and a large naval complex. Among the dead was one foreigner, an Iraqi; the rest were Pakistani employees of the agency. Shocked and dazed workers helped carry out their dead and wounded colleagues.
The bombing, at around noon local time, occurred despite extensive security precautions. The office, from which smoke bellowed after the blast, was heavily fortified, with giant sandbags placed against the front of the building, so no windows were visible from the street. It’s surrounded by high walls topped with razor wire. All those entering are scanned and frisked.
The World Food Program was at the forefront of providing aid to Pakistanis who’d been displaced by anti-Taliban operations, especially the 2 million who evacuated Swat earlier this year.
“I was on the first floor. There was a loud blast. Smoke and broken glass was everywhere,” Dominique Frankefort, the deputy director of the WFP mission in Pakistan, told McClatchy Newspapers. “When I came down, there were people not moving, and a lot of damage.”
Police said around 80 workers were in the building at the time, which is guarded by private security personnel and paramilitary soldiers. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.
“This is a heinous crime committed against those who have been working tirelessly to assist the poor and vulnerable on the front lines of hunger and other human suffering in Pakistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Geneva.
Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s interior minister, said the bomber was dressed in the uniform of the Frontier Corps paramilitary force and that he’d asked to enter the building to use the bathroom. Others suggested that the bomber climbed over the side wall of the building, which abuts a house.
“Their (the Taliban’s) neck is broken but they are striking like a wounded snake,” Malik said. “These people only have one agenda: They want to destabilize Pakistan, destroy Pakistan’s image, but we are united as a nation and we say no to the Taliban.”
Bin Yamin, a senior Islamabad police official, said at the scene that the bomber was in his early 20s and a part of his skull and his severed legs were found in the U.N. building’s lobby area.