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October 16, 2009

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39 killed as bomb wave fuels fear in Pakistan

TEAMS of gunmen launched coordinated attacks on three law enforcement facilities in Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, and car bombs hit two other cities yesterday, killing a total of 39 people in an escalating wave of anti-government violence.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, though suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban who have claimed other recent strikes.

Yesterday's attacks also were the latest to underscore the growing threat to Punjab, the province next to India where the Taliban are believed to have made inroads and linked up with local insurgents.

President Asif Ali Zardari said the bloodshed that has engulfed the nation over the past 11 days would not deter the government from its mission to eliminate the violent extremists.

"The enemy has started a guerrilla war," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said. "The whole nation should be united against these handful of terrorists, and God willing we will defeat them."

Lahore shutdown

The wave of violence practically shut down daily life in Lahore. All government offices were closed, the roads were nearly empty and major markets were shuttered.

The assaults began about 9am when a group of gunmen attacked the Federal Investigation Agency, the national law enforcement body.

The attack lasted about one and a half hours and ended with the death of two assailants, four government employees and a bystander, senior official Sajjad Bhutta said. Police official Chaudhry Shafiq said one of the dead wore a suicide vest.

A second band of gunman then raided a police training school on the outskirts of the city, killing nine police officers, officials said. Police killed one gunmen and the other three blew themselves up.

A third team then scaled the back wall of a police commando training center near the airport, said Lahore's police chief, Pervez Rathore.

The attackers stood on the roof of a house, shooting at security forces and throwing grenades, said Lieutenant General Shafqat Ahmad, the top military officer in Lahore.

Taliban active

Two attackers were slain in the gun battle, and three blew themselves up, he said. A police nursing assistant and a civilian also died.

Punjab is Pakistan's most populous and powerful province, and the Taliban claimed recently that they were activating cells there and elsewhere in the country for assaults.

In the Taliban-riddled northwest, meanwhile, a suicide car bomb exploded next to a police station in the Saddar area of Kohat, collapsing half the building and killing 11 people.

Early yesterday evening, a bomb exploded in a car outside a housing complex for government employees in the northwest city of Peshawar, killing a 6-year-old boy and wounding nine others, most of them women and children.


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