Twin suicide blasts tore through a university campus in Pakistan’s capital Tuesday, killing up to five people as the military pursued a major anti-Taliban offensive in the lawless northwest.
The bombing of Islamabad’s International Islamic University was the seventh major militant attack in just over a fortnight and the first since the military launched what officials vowed would be a knockout blow against the Taliban.
Two explosions seconds apart rocked a male teaching faculty and women’s cafeteria of what is one of the largest Islamic universities in the world, attracting Muslim students from around the world, around 3:00 pm (0900 GMT).
“We are in a state of war. They will make every effort to destabilise the country. These so-called Islamists are enemies of Islam and enemies of Pakistan,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at Islamabad’s main hospital.
Broken glass and pieces of charred flesh littered the faculty building’s first floor, where blood dripped down the stairwell and students stepped through the debris, choking under heavy smoke, an AFP reporter said.
“Seven people including two suicide bombers are dead, and 29 injured in the two attacks. Among the dead is one female,” senior city administration official Rana Akbar Hayat told AFP at the scene of the attack.
The first blast ripped through the faculty of Islamic jurisprudence used by male students and the second hit the women’s cafeteria, law student Qudrat Ullah told AFP from the scene.
“There is panic. Students are rushing to donate blood. There are a lot of police arrived inside the building,” he said.
“Casualties were taken away first in private vehicles. Then ambulances arrived. I saw several people wounded.”
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists have carried out a two-year campaign of suicide bombings and commando raids that have killed 2,280 people.
“Whether they claim or don’t claim, all roads lead to South Waziristan,” the interior minister said, referring to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold on the Afghan border where the military launched its offensive at the weekend.
A barrage of attacks since October 5 has left more than 170 people dead, underlining the scale of the insurgency that authorities are trying to halt.
The Taliban last week staged an audacious raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the garrison town adjoining Islamabad, with 23 people killed and 39 hostages freed by troops.
Five UN World Food Programme workers were killed earlier this month when a suicide bomber dressed in military uniform walked into their office in Islamabad and blew himself up.
Authorities believe that many of the bombings and suicide attacks in Pakistan, as well as attacks in the West, are being planned in South Waziristan.
Officials said at least 98 militants and 13 soldiers had been killed since the fighting erupted Saturday in the semi-autonomous tribal region, and more than 120,000 civilians have now fled to areas outside the war zone.
Troops backed by artillery, attack helicopters and fighter jets Tuesday pounded Taliban bastions around Kotkai, the home town of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, the military said.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he was “encouraged” by the Pakistani offensive, while cautioning that it was too soon to predict the outcome.
Numerous previous offensives against militants in the tribal belt have had limited success, costing the lives of 2,000 troops and ending generally with peace agreements that critics say gave the insurgents a chance to re-arm.
Some of those forced to flee the fighting said this time would be no different.
“There is no likelihood of this operation being a success. It’s just for show,” 45-year-old shepherd Sharaf Khan told AFP on reaching the town of Dera Ismail Khan with his young family after a three-day trek.
“We have spent the last four or five years living in misery. As far as we are concerned, neither the army nor Taliban are any good.”