- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | A suicide bomber struck Tuesday outside a press club in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing three people and wounding 17 in an attack that underscored the danger to journalists trying to cover Pakistan’s Taliban-led insurgency.

Militants have threatened, attacked and killed journalists in an attempt to prevent reporting that they deem critical of the Taliban, and journalists say they also face pressure from government operatives trying to influence news coverage.

A policeman tried to search the suicide bomber as he approached the press club’s gate, but the man resisted and triggered his explosives, said the city’s police chief, Liaquat Ali Khan. The dead included the officer and an accountant who worked for the press club, authorities said.

A woman who was at the site died of cardiac arrest caused by the shock of the bombing, said Dr. Sahib Gul at a hospital in Peshawar where casualties were taken. Seventeen people were wounded, including one photographer slightly injured by shrapnel. Many of the wounded were on a bus that was passing the press club, Dr. Gul said.

“Journalists have played a vital role in our war by exposing the terrorists, so they are on the target list, too, like mosques, bazaars and security institutions,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack, saying, “Threats against the Pakistani media and press clubs are nothing new, but it is outrageous that this press freedom sanctuary should be targeted in this fashion.”

Four journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2009 and five the previous year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

At least 45 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2001, the year Pakistan joined the U.S. in its fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda, said Mazhar Abbas, until recently secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. Before that, journalist killings were rare in Pakistan.

Reporters also have been kidnapped by militants and detained by intelligence agencies, those in the field have said. Militants have also issued warnings to journalists through fliers distributed in various towns.

Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud issued a different kind of message Tuesday in a leaflet distributed in the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, an area in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where many of his fighters fled after a major military offensive in mid-October in neighboring South Waziristan.

Mr. Mehsud urged his fighters not to stir up trouble in North Waziristan - apparently in the hope of securing sanctuary in a region that is dominated by militants who have signed a truce with the government. He ordered them to “avoid criminal activities, kidnapping, creating trouble and interfering in internal affairs in North Waziristan.”

“Anybody found violating this order will be considered guilty in the eyes of the Pakistani Taliban Movement and will be liable for punishment,” the leaflet said.

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