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30 dead, 250 hurt as bombers launch suicide attack in Lahore

SUSPECTED suicide attackers detonated a car bomb yesterday that destroyed a police building and sheared walls off a nearby office of Pakistan's top intelligence service in the eastern city of Lahore, killing about 30 people and wounding at least 250.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the attack, one of the deadliest in Pakistan this year, could be retaliation for the government's military offensive to rout Taliban militants from the Swat Valley.

Recent assaults in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city and situated near the Indian border, have heightened fears that militancy in Pakistan is spreading well beyond the northwest region bordering Afghanistan.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Police said two suspects were detained.

At least nine police and several intelligence agents were among the dead, officials said. The remainder of the dead and the bulk of the wounded were civilians caught in the midmorning blast in a busy downtown section of the city.

A police call center was reduced to rubble in the blast, and walls at an nearby office of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency collapsed. The ceilings of several operating rooms in a nearby hospital fell in, injuring 20 people.

"The moment the blast happened, everything went dark in front of my eyes," witness Muhammad Ali said. "The way the blast happened, then gunfire, looked as if there was a battle going on."

Sajjad Bhutta, a senior government official in Lahore, told reporters a car carrying several gunmen pulled up on a street between offices of the emergency police and the intelligence agency.

"As some people came out from that vehicle and started firing at the ISI office, the guards from inside that building returned fire," he said. As the shooting continued, the car exploded, he said.

Police said they had little chance to react to the gunshots before the blast.

"All of a sudden we heard a loud sound and the roof collapsed on us," said Mohammad Rehman, a police official.

Interior Minister Malik blamed the attack on militants that government forces are fighting in the Swat Valley and the border region where US officials believe al-Qaida and Taliban militants are hiding and planning attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan.

"They are anti-state elements, and after being defeated in Swat they have moved to our big cities," Malik told the Express news channel.

US officials and others in the past had accused the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of having links to militant groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the secretive agency has also been responsible for capturing and interrogating al-Qaida terrorist suspects and collecting intelligence that helps the government's campaign against militants in the border region.


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