International

Suicide bombers strike in Islamabad

Eleven killed, dozens wounded in 2-person assault on a court complex in the Pakistani capital

Pakistani security officers cordon off the scene where at least 11 person were killed when two suicide bomb attackers detonated explosives at a local court in Islamabad.
Sohail Shahzad/EPA

Just two days after the Pakistani Taliban declared a unilateral ceasefire, two suicide bombers attacked a court complex in the country’s capital on Monday, killing 11 people and wounding dozens in the heart of Islamabad, officials said.

Initial reports suggested two men wearing explosive vests rushed into the court complex, threw hand grenades and started shooting, then blew themselves up, said Islamabad Police Chief Sikander Hayat.

He put the death toll at 11, as did another police official and a hospital spokeswoman where the dead were taken. A judge was among those killed.

"It was certainly an act of terrorism," Hayat said in televised comments to reporters.

The Pakistani Taliban, who declared a month-long ceasefire Saturday to revive peace talks with the government, immediately distanced themselves from the attack as well as a separate blast on the Afghan border which killed two soldiers.

"We have already declared a ceasefire for a month and we stand by our promise," a Taliban spokesman said. Bomb attacks are rare in Islamabad, the leafy and well-developed seat of Pakistan's government.

The judge, Rafaqat Awan, was killed immediately. He had rejected a petition last year to file a murder case against former President Perzez Musharraf over his order to storm a hardline mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

"There is one policeman among the dead," local police station head constable Mohammad Yousaf told Reuters. "We also have unconfirmed reports that two lawyers have died."

Pakistani television showed images of the area with windows blown out, walls torn and lawyers wearing traditional black suits carrying what appeared to be dead and wounded from the buildings. Policemen with weapons raised ran through the area and searched offices.

One of the attackers blew himself up outside the office of the president of the lawyers union and the other outside the door of a judge's office, Hayat said.

Two other attackers were killed in the ensuing gun fight with police, according to Reuters. Police said gunmen fired at random targets in the area after the initial explosion.

Shortly afterward, police blocked entry and exit points to the area, a maze of narrow, dusty streets lined with one-room shops and offices. Police secured the area an hour later and the market resumed normal operations.

Unilateral ceasefire

Taliban officials said they announced the ceasefire after receiving assurances from the civilian government that they would not be attacked.

"Senior officials of the federal government promised us the government and its law-enforcement agencies would not take any action against our people in the country," a senior Taliban commander said.

"You can say the government first announced a cease-fire and we did it later."

He declined to say who in the government made the cease-fire guarantee.

Peace talks between the Pakistani government and Taliban insurgents began on Feb. 6 but broke down after insurgents said they executed 23 men from a government paramilitary force in revenge for the killing of their fighters by army forces.

The Pakistani Taliban is fighting to topple Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government and impose Sharia law.

Attacks have been on the rise since Sharif came to power in May, promising a negotiated end to violence.

The inability of Pakistani authorities to deal with the armed group is due to a lack of resources coupled with a broken legal system, Hassan Abbas, academic and senior advisor at Asia Society, told Al Jazeera.

"Sharif's biggest failure has been to not devise a well thought out counterterrorism policy. The delay and lack of clarity has complicated the matter further," Abbas told Al Jazeera by email.

Spokesman Shahid said the Taliban shura — an assembly — agreed unanimously on the ceasefire after receiving government promises.

Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator, said the government team would meet early this week to discuss the ceasefire and potentially restarting peace talks.

"If they are able to implement the ceasefire effectively and control the other groups, I think we could restart (talks)," he said. "It is a positive development."

However, violence conducted by fringe groups showed how difficult it could be for the Taliban to enforce a ceasefire, let alone for the two sides to forge a peace deal.

"The bombings indicate that various Pakistani Taliban groups are involved in terrorism, and the group that the government is talking to is not in control of all factions,” Abbas said. "There is also infighting among these factions."

Al Jazeera and wire services. Amel Ahmed contributed to this report.

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