ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber disguised as a paramilitary soldier breached tight security at a United Nations building Monday in Islamabad, killing five workers and wounding several others, officials and witnesses said.
All the U.N. offices in Islamabad were closed immediately "till further notice." The blast 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 Qaida-linked militants.
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 country's tribal border area with Afghanistan, are under the fearsome new leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud. Pakistan is braced for a fresh spate of violence as its army prepares to launch ground operations against the Taliban's headquarters in the Waziristan part of the tribal area, having already fought them in the Swat valley in Pakistan's northwest and the Bajaur and Mohmand part of the tribal belt.
Separately, Hakimullah Mehsud tried to dispel reports from U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents that he'd died in a shootout in August by meeting selected Pakistani journalists Sunday. The footage of the meeting, released Monday, seemed to show that he was alive and well.
Monday's blast occurred in the lobby of the office of the World Food Program, an arm of the U.N., in a posh 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 World Food Program. Shocked and dazed workers helped carry out their dead and wounded colleagues.
The bombing, at around noon local time, was a major breach of 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 relief 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. "When I came down, there were people not moving, and a lot of damage."
Rehman Malik, Pakistan's interior minister, said that the bomber was dressed in the uniform of the Frontier Corp paramilitary force, and that he'd asked to enter the building to use the bathroom.
"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."
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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