ISLAMABAD, Pakistan _ Taliban militants in Pakistan extended their campaign of violence Thursday against the country’s security forces, targeting the navy for the third time this week with a bombing that killed five in the southern city of Karachi.
A roadside bomb blasted a bus that was carrying naval personnel, killing four people in the vehicle, along with a passing motorcyclist, officials said; at least five people were wounded. On Tuesday two naval buses in different parts of the city were bombed in almost identical attacks, killing four people and wounding 56. The Pakistani Taliban, which are closely allied with al Qaida, claimed responsibility for all the blasts.
Since 2007, some of the most radical jihadist groups in Pakistan have turned on the country’s army and, to a lesser extent, the air force. The navy has no obvious role in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism fight and wasn't previously on the militants' firing line, but it appears to present an easy target.
Raja Umar Khattab, a senior police officer in Karachi, said that Thursday’s bomb, with around 10 pounds of explosives, was planted at the side of the road.
“This is the same type of attack, the same modus operandi" as Tuesday, Khattab said. "The same group was involved.”
Pakistani militants most often use suicide attackers. The strikes on the buses with remote-control bombs seem to show a more sophisticated approach. The buses were taking naval personnel to work. The navy has extensive infrastructure in Karachi.
If extremists want to expand their attacks further, the armed forces offer many soft targets, as the military’s business and welfare empire includes schools, factories, even bakeries. As a precaution, naval schools in Karachi were closed this week.
“This is not an isolated incident,” the top provincial official, Qaim Ali Shah, said at the scene. “It is part of a well-organized plot to destabilize the country.”
Karachi is a violent, teeming city, but most of its bloodshed comes from gangster-like rivalry between ethnic groups. Attacks by Islamic extremists remain relatively rare.
Pakistan is fighting the main faction of the Pakistani Taliban in parts of the tribal border area. The military says it's lost 2,821 troops in this battle since 2001, more than the number of U.S.-led coalition personnel who've been killed in Afghanistan during that period. Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, proclaimed recently that the military had “broken the backbone” of the militants.
However, Washington remains critical of Pakistan’s fight against extremists, saying the country isn't going after groups that use its territory as a haven from which to fight across the border in Afghanistan. The U.S. is pushing Islamabad to launch an offensive in the North Waziristan part of the tribal area, where the Pakistani Taliban and other such groups are based, but Pakistan says its forces already are stretched elsewhere.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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