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Bomb kills 11 at Pakistan mosque, police station

A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb at a mosque next to a police station in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar today, killing 11 people in the latest bloodshed in an unrelenting wave of terror that has hit the country.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but suspicion fell on the Taliban, who have been blamed for two weeks of attacks that have killed more than 150 people across the country and appear aimed at forcing the government to abandon a planned offensive into the militants' stronghold along the Afghan border.

The attacker in Peshawar appeared to be aiming at the heavily guarded police station with a 150 pound (70 kilogram) car bomb, said Malik Shafqat, a police explosives expert. When guards outside tried to stop the car, the bomber detonated the explosives, he said. The blast badly damaged the mosque as well as the police station.

"Police were the target," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, provincial information minister. He said authorities found the bomber's leg but did not know if the attacker was a man or woman.

Television footage showed the upper part of the wall of the brick mosque shorn off. Security forces swarmed the area as ambulances arrived at the scene. A twisted chunk of metal on the ground was in flames, and a small white car's front section was destroyed. In nearby Lady Reading Hospital, rescue workers rushed wounded victims through the hallways on stretchers.

The blast killed 11 people, including three police officers, two women and two children, said Liaqat Ali Khan, the Peshawar police chief. Another 15 people were wounded, including criminal suspects who were being detained inside the police station at the time of the attack, officials said.

Yesterday, a car bomb in Peshawar killed a small child at a housing complex for government employees.

The newest violence came a day after militants launched coordinated attacks on three law enforcement compounds in the country's second-largest city of Lahore, killing 19 people as well as the nine attackers.

Two officials said initial investigations into the Lahore attacks showed Taliban from the Afghan border region and militants from Punjab were responsible.

"This was a well-coordinated Taliban operation supported by local groups," Umer Virk, head of the Lahore anti-terrorist police, told The Associated Press.

The violence across the nation has fueled concerns that the Taliban are forging links with other militant groups in the country, an alliance that would vastly increase the threats to the US-allied government. Many ordinary Pakistanis are anxiously questioning whether the state has the ability to avert the danger.

Observers say Punjab's militant problem is most pervasive in its south. But speaking to reporters in Lahore on Friday, provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah played down any such threat.

"The Taliban don't have any authority in southern Punjab, and there is no need for any operation against them," he said.

Sanaullah, who said authorities had arrested some people in connection with the assaults, also defended the performance of security agencies during the standoffs, and said previous intelligence about the possible attacks was too vague to act upon.

The tactics used in Lahore were similar to previous strikes blamed on the Taliban network in South Waziristan and allied militants from Punjab, the nation's most populous and powerful province. The methods include using teams of gunmen carrying suicide vests.

The government has said the planning for the attacks is often done near the Afghan border, while the foot soldiers are recruited in Punjab. In claiming responsibility for another recent attack, the Taliban said one of their cells in Punjab had carried it out.

Pakistanis have grown less inclined to support the Taliban over the past year, opinion polls have shown, but many are expressing anger and helplessness over how to deal with the strikes.

"The terrorists seem more committed to their cause than the government is to eliminating them," said Saima Ahmed, 33, a bank employee in the southern city of Karachi. "Our inherent weaknesses, corruption, and inability to govern the country are now exposed fully. It's total chaos all over the country."

The US hopes that a Pakistani army operation in South Waziristan will help break much of the militant network that threatens both Pakistan and American troops across the border in Afghanistan.

In Lahore, retired police officer Mohammad Sadique blamed the US for the problems.

"So long as the American forces are present in Afghanistan, these terrorist attacks in Pakistan will continue," he said, adding that he condemned the strikes because "no Muslim can kill his own brother or sister."

The Pakistani army has given no time frame for the expected offensive in South Waziristan. It has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area. Analysts say that with winter approaching, any push would likely have to begin soon to be successful.


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