- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

LAHORE, Pakistan | Suspected suicide attackers detonated an explosives-filled van Wednesday that destroyed a police building and sheared walls off a nearby office of Pakistan’s top intelligence service in the eastern city Lahore. About 30 people were killed and at least 250 wounded.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the attack - one of the deadliest in Pakistan this year - could be retaliation for the government’s military offensive to rout Taliban militants from the northwestern Swat Valley.

Recent assaults in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city situated near the Indian border, have heightened fears that militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan is spreading well beyond the northwest region bordering Afghanistan.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. Police said two suspects were detained.

Raja Riaz, a senior minister in the Punjab provincial government, said about 30 people were killed. At least nine police and several intelligence agents were among the dead, officials said. The remainder of the dead and the bulk of the wounded were civilians caught in the midmorning blast in a busy downtown section of the city.

Sajjad Bhutta, another senior government official, said more than 250 people were wounded.

A white van pulled up in a narrow street separating the police and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency buildings, police officer Sohail Sakheera said. Two gunmen stepped out, took cover behind concrete barriers protecting the buildings and opened fire.

A driver remained in the van.

“As some people came out from that vehicle and started firing at the ISI office, the guards from inside that building returned fire,” Mr. Bhutta said. As the shooting continued, the van exploded.

A police call center was reduced to rubble in the blast, and walls at a nearby office of the ISI agency collapsed. The ceilings of several operating rooms in a nearby hospital fell in, injuring 20 people.

Mr. Malik blamed the attack on militants that government forces are fighting in Swat Valley and the border region where U.S. and other officials think al Qaeda and Taliban militants are hiding and planning attacks against Western forces in Afghanistan.

“They are anti-state elements, and after being defeated in Swat they have moved to our big cities,” Mr. Malik told the Express news channel.

The Swat offensive is seen as a test of the government’s resolve against the spread of militancy, and is strongly backed by Washington. The army has said at least 1,100 militants have been killed in a month of fighting and that the Taliban is in retreat.

Wednesday’s attack was the third in Lahore in recent months. In March, a group of gunmen attacked Sri Lanka’s visiting cricket team in the heart of the city, killing six police officers and a driver. Later that month, gunmen raided a police academy on the city’s outskirts, triggering an eight-hour standoff with security forces that left at least 12 dead.

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