- - Sunday, October 3, 2010

ISLAMABAD | Gunmen attacked tankers in Islamabad on Monday transporting fuel to coalition troops in Afghanistan, police said, a move likely to delay the planned reopening of a supply route through Pakistan.

Television pictures showed a towering inferno of fire coming from the trucks, which were filling up just outside Islamabad en route to Afghanistan when unknown assailants attacked the convoy with guns and Molotov cocktails.

“There were at least 12 men carrying arms. They first opened fire and killed three guards and then set tankers on fire,” senior police Officer Mirwaiz Niaz told Reuters news agency.

Eight other people were wounded, a police emergency official told Agence France-Presse. Reports of the number of trucks attacked varied from 13 to 20 early Monday. It’s the third such strike inside Pakistan in as many days.

Pakistan has said it will reopen a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan only once public anger over NATO incursions across the border from Afghanistan eases and security improves, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday.

“The supply has been suspended because of security reasons, and it will be resumed as soon as these reasons are addressed,” Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told the Associated Press.

However, Pakistan had expected to reopen the route soon.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, had told CNN’s “State of the Union” show Sunday that he did “not expect this blockade to continue for too long,” elaborating that he expected a reopening in less than a week.

Angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters, Pakistan blocked a supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan after one strike killed three Pakistani soldiers on Thursday in the northwestern Kurram region.

The NATO incursions and the closure of the supply route, now in its fifth day, have heightened tensions between the United States and Pakistan, whose long alliance often has been uneasy.

The Torkham border crossing along the fabled Khyber Pass is used to bring fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other nonlethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s other main route into landlocked Afghanistan, in Chaman in the southwest, has remained open.

Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to crack down harder on militants in the northwest of the country, a hub for Islamist terrorists worldwide. The U.S. and Britain warned their citizens Sunday of an increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, with Washington saying al Qaeda might target transport infrastructure.

The CIA has escalated drone strikes against al Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan’s northwest, with 21 attacks in September alone, the highest number in a single month on record. Two more drone strikes Saturday killed 18 militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

Civilian casualties caused by the missile-carrying pilotless drones, operated by the Central Intelligence Agency, have infuriated many Pakistanis and made it harder for the government to cooperate with the United States.

On Sunday, the bodies of three men were found by a road in the northwestern tribal region, killed by suspected Pakistani Taliban militants in retaliation for recent U.S. drone strikes in the area, officials and a villager said.

The corpses were discovered in North Waziristan alongside the Miran Shah-Data Khel road that leads to Afghanistan.

A note under a rock next to the bodies said, “Anyone who dares spy for the Americans will meet the same fate,” according to two intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

From combined dispatches

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