ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Twin suicide car bombings Tuesday in Pakistan's historic city of Lahore brought carnage to the heart of the country only days before a new government is formed.
At least 28 people were killed and more than 160 injured after bombers struck a civil intelligence agency and a house in an upscale neighborhood. The home, in an area of Lahore called Model Town, was being used as the headquarters of an advertising agency.
"Terrorism is now coming into our homes," Salman Batalvi, the owner of the Model Town house, said in an interview.
"My gardener and two of his children are dead. I have a colleague in critical condition."
It's thought that Batalvi's property was hit by mistake. Nearby is the Lahore office of the Pakistan People's Party, which won the most seats in last month's election. Another possible target is a house on the same road that belongs to a senior army officer who works in counterterrorism.
The main casualties came from the bombing at the Lahore offices of the Federal Investigation Agency. The whole front of the building collapsed. Children at a nearby school were among the injured.
The two bombings were almost simultaneous, around 9.30 a.m., during the morning rush hour. Experts said that the tactics and sophistication of the campaign of suicide bombings in the country over the last year increasingly echoed the situation in Iraq. So far in Pakistan nongovernmental targets mostly have been spared.
The blasts could be heard from several miles away across Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's most heavily populated province. Lahore also is considered Pakistan's cultural capital. The explosion at the intelligence agency, at a busy crossroads in the middle of the city, triggered scenes of panic, followed by a spontaneous gathering to protest it.
The agency has a counterterrorism wing but it primarily is responsible for investigating other crimes, such as human trafficking. There's speculation that terrorism suspects were under interrogation at the time inside the building.
Earlier this month, a naval college in Lahore was bombed by two men on a motorcycle. In January, a bomber walked up to a group of police officers outside the Lahore High Court and blew himself up. Previously, Lahore mostly had been spared terrorist violence, so many of its potential targets aren't well protected.
"Despite our best efforts, such incidents cannot be ruled out, but I still say we are doing all humanly possible," said Malik Iqbal, a senior police officer in Lahore.
"This doesn't mean we have to surrender. We will fight back."
The police, navy and Federal Investigation Agency bombings follow the pattern of government-focused bombings in Pakistan, which have escalated sharply since the bloody storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad last July.�Government security forces attacked the mosque in an effort to rout extremists holed up there.�More than 50 people died in the assault.
Closed-circuit television footage from Tuesday's intelligence agency attack showed rudimentary security at the building, with two apparently unarmed police officers manning a flimsy gate that wasn't fully closed. A speeding van drove into the gate, knocking over one of the officers. Witnesses said the van then entered the parking lot and blew up, possibly going for a corner of the building in an attempt to topple it completely.
The political enemies of embattled U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf seized on the latest terrorist attack to call for a change of policy.
"There was no terrorism or extremism in this society till we took sides and became a partner of the United States of America in the war on terror," Munawar Hasan, the secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the two major religious parties, said in an interview.
"If Pervez Musharraf remains there, I don't think any government is going to follow any other policy."
As Taliban and al Qaida-inspired terrorism spreads from the country's northwest, which borders Afghanistan and had borne the brunt of the violence, the new government will be under intense pressure to adopt a new strategy. However, analysts said there were no easy answers.
Amir Rana, the director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad, said: "The Taliban has been very effective in creating hatred of Musharraf. I don't think they'll stop even after Musharraf. That's not their only agenda. There are different actors involved with multiple agendas."
In a related development Tuesday, Musharraf called the first session of the new parliament for next Monday, which will allow a new government to form. The two big opposition parties, which won the election, have said that they'll form a coalition.
However, so far no one has been named prime minister, the head of the government under Pakistan's constitution. The Pakistan People's Party, which won the most seats and therefore has the right to nominate a prime minister, has been caught up in an internal battle for the job.
It appears increasingly likely that Asif Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who took on the leadership of the party after her assassination in December, has muscled out other contenders and ultimately will take the job.
Since Zardari didn't run for parliament, it's expected that the party will name another candidate, who'll step aside once Zardari gets a seat in a by-election, a process that could take three months.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)