Blast hits home of officer at center of Pakistan's terrorist fight

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 19, 2011 

ISLAMABAD — A suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden car rammed into the house of a senior counterterrorism police official Monday in the southern city of Karachi, killing eight people but not the officer who was the apparent target, officials said.

A mother and her 8-year-old son who were on their way to a nearby school were among those killed when the bomb struck the house of Chaudhry Aslam, a senior officer in the counterterrorism branch of the Karachi police. Also killed were six of Aslam's bodyguards.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast.

Aslam, who has survived multiple assassination attempts, is a legend among police in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, where the counterterrorism police are considered among the best in the country for tackling extremist violence. While the city is notorious for ethnic gang violence, attacks by religious extremists are still relatively rare.

"While I have a drop of blood left in me, I will continue to fight terrorism," said a visibly angry Aslam, who is generally credited with being the police's lead agent in combating the Pakistani Taliban. "I never thought these people would stoop so low as to attack sleeping children."

"Just wait, these terrorists will see what I do to them," he said.

If the bomb, which detonated about 7:40 a.m., had exploded a little later, there would likely have been many casualties at the nearby school, which was not yet open.

The attackers' knowledge of Aslam's home will concern the authorities. Karachi's 33,000 police officers have to patrol a volatile city of some 18 million people plagued by inter-ethnic violence. Thousands of Karachi's police have been assassinated since the 1980s, when a cycle of violence in the city erupted.

Mansoor Wasan, the interior minister of the provincial government, said that 64 police officers had been killed in 2011.

"These attackers want to envelop the whole of Pakistan in terrorism," said Wasan.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Ehsanullah Ehsan, taking responsibility for the attack, told reporters, "We will attack other police officials as well who are taking action against our people."

The blast blew out the front of Aslam's house, in the upscale neighborhood of Defence, which is considered among Karachi's safest places. It left the street a wreck, with all the surrounding homes badly damaged and more than a dozen mangled cars and motorbikes strewn on the road. A large crater showed the spot where the vehicle exploded.

The Karachi city police chief, Saud Mirza, visiting the site, said that at least 650 pounds of explosive had been packed into the vehicle. "He (Aslam) is the one who's been at the forefront of the work against the Taliban," Mirza said.

The Pakistani Taliban, based in the tribal area, which borders Afghanistan in the northwest, have a terrorist network that stretches across the country, including cells in Karachi. Since 2007, the group, which works closely with al Qaida, has led an Islamist insurrection in the tribal area and a terrorist bombing campaign across Pakistan.

Most of the supplies to the U.S.-led international coalition in Afghanistan pass through the port of Karachi, which this year has suffered a cycle of tit-for-tat ethnically motivated killings.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban carried out a suicide attack at the home of a senior security official in the western city of Quetta, killing at least 23 people, though the intended target survived.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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