- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan | Bombings in two Pakistani cities killed 46 people Monday, as militants struck back in the wake of an army offensive against a Taliban stronghold in the northwest near the Afghanistan border.

Two synchronized bombs ripped through a market that is popular with women in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore about 9 p.m., igniting a massive fire that killed 36 people, authorities said. Hours earlier, a suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a courthouse in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The attacks have coincided with rising speculation over the future of President Asif Ali Zardari.

On Monday, the Supreme Court began examining the legality of an amnesty protecting Mr. Zardari and 8,000 other officials from graft prosecution. Although Mr. Zardari has immunity from prosecution as president, some analysts say the court could now take up cases challenging his eligibility to run for office.

In Lahore, about 100 people were wounded in the attacks, which were timed to take place when the Moon Market was at its busiest. Authorities initially said both bombs were thought to be remote-controlled, but they later said a suicide bomber was suspected to have carried out at least one of the bombings.

The blasts came within 30 seconds of each other, leaving dozens of cars and shops ablaze late into the night.

Many victims were women and children, including a dead 2-year-old, a police officer said.

Most of the militants’ attacks in recent weeks have been directed at security forces, though several have targeted crowded public spaces such as markets, apparently to create public anger and increase pressure on the government to call a halt to the offensive.

More than 400 people have been killed since the beginning of October. While Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was visiting Pakistan, an attack killed 105 in a Peshawar market frequented by women.

The Taliban generally claims responsibility for attacks that kill security officers, but it does not acknowledge carrying out the attacks targeting civilians. Government officials and security analysts say there is little doubt that the militants are behind all the attacks.

Moon Market sells women’s clothing, shoes and cosmetics.

Lahore is Pakistan’s second-largest city. It has been hit several times by militants over the past year, including an attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and several strikes against security installations.

By attacking Lahore, militants are bringing their war to the heart of Pakistan. The city is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, and is considered the political and cultural center. It is also home to many army regiments because of its location next to the border with India, Pakistan’s longtime foe.

The attacks in Lahore came hours after a suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a courthouse in Peshawar, a northwestern city that has been hit repeatedly by bombings since October. It lies on the main road into the region near the Afghanistan border, much of which is under the control of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Early Tuesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said that a U.S. missile strike killed at least three people near Mir Ali, which is a main town in North Waziristan, a troubled northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border. The two officials said the two missiles early Tuesday destroyed a car carrying three people in a village.

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