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October 7, 2009

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Taliban claims UN food agency attack

TALIBAN militants claimed responsibility yesterday for the deadly suicide bombing at the United Nations food agency's heavily fortified compound in Islamabad, saying international relief work in Pakistan was not in "the interest of Muslims."

The attack, which killed five workers for the World Food Program on Monday, pushed the UN to temporarily close its offices in the country and exposed the vulnerability of many international relief agencies working to provide aid to millions of civilians affected by the fight between the government and Islamic militant groups.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik accused the Taliban of carrying out the attack to avenge the August 5 slaying of its leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack.

Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq confirmed his group was behind the bombing in a phone conversation with The Associated Press and lashed out at foreign aid workers here.

"We proudly claim the responsibility for the suicide attack at the UN office in Islamabad. We will send more bombers for such attacks," he said. "The UN and other foreign (aid groups) are not working for the interest of Muslims. We are watching their activities. They are infidels."

Guards questioned

He said the Taliban would not target Muslim relief groups.

World Food Program spokesman Amjad Jamal defended the agency's work as "totally humanitarian." "We provide food. Our food is for the vulnerable groups, the poor groups who cannot afford one meal a day," he said.

The suicide bomber was dressed as a security officer and was allowed to enter the World Food Program offices -- apparently bypassing the normal security procedures -- after asking guards outside if he could used the bathroom.

After the attack, the UN announced it was temporarily closing all its offices in Pakistan, but said its Pakistani partner organizations would continue distributing food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance. It said it would reassess the situation over the next few days.

Malik, who was visiting those injured in the bombing at a Pakistani hospital, said the government had taken several of the guards outside the UN offices into custody for questioning.


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