Missile strike kills 16 as Pakistan unrest grows

By on Monday, March 17th, 2008

Agence France-Presse,

ISLAMABAD: A missile strike in Pakistan's tribal belt killed 16 people Sunday, witnesses and state media said, a day after a bomb targeting foreigners at an Islamabad restaurant left a Turkish woman dead.

The deteriorating security in nuclear-armed Pakistan, a key ally in the US-led “war on terror”, piles pressure on the incoming government which is set to be sworn in when the country's new parliament meets on Monday.

With the country on alert after Saturday evening's blast at an Italian eatery in the capital, one of several missiles fired into the South Waziristan tribal region slammed into a suspected militant compound, residents said.

Foreigners linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were believed to be staying at the compound in Doog village. Residents said they heard a series of explosions.

“Militants have cordoned the blast site and are taking out bodies from the rubble,” one local tribesman told AFP.

“The missile has left only part of a boundary wall intact and turned the compound into a pile of debris,” he said. “Body parts were flung into the air and were lying in nearby farmlands.”

Local officials and the official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency said there were 16 dead. State-run Pakistan Television gave a toll of 20 fatalities.

Pakistan's chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that he had received reports about six blasts, but had no details about casualties yet.

Missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt, many of them attributed to US-led forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, have increased in frequency in recent months.

In January, one such missile attack killed senior Al-Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi in neighbouring North Waziristan.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, police said they had rounded up 110 suspects in connection with the bombing at the crowded Luna Caprese restaurant in a series of raids in the capital.

Security at key installations and diplomatic missions was stepped up.

A Turkish aid worker died and at least 10 other foreigners were wounded, including several US diplomats.

Security officials said the attack showed that Islamist militants linked to the tribal areas and behind a wave of recent attacks in Pakistan have changed tactics to target foreigners.

“This was the first attack in which foreigners have been targeted in Islamabad since 2002 and it shows a new trend,” a top security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

A suicide attacker armed with grenades stormed into a church in Islamabad's diplomatic enclave on March 17, 2002, killing a US diplomat's wife and teenage stepdaughter as well as two other worshippers.

Violence linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents has left at least 600 people dead since the start of the year but all of the attacks have been on Pakistani targets, most of them security forces.

“The terrorists picked a soft target where they had prior information that some foreigners would be present at dinner time,” the official said.

President Pervez Musharraf “strongly condemned” the bombing, APP said. Turkey also denounced the attack, and identified the victim as Sacide Ender Baskaya, who had worked in Pakistan since 2005.

The US embassy cautioned its citizens living in Islamabad to avoid areas frequented by foreigners and to “maintain a low profile”.

Japan's Kyodo News said its Islamabad bureau chief Motonobu Endo, 32, and former bureau chief Toshihisa Onishi, 34, were injured in the blast.

The violence comes a day before the party of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who died on December 27 in a suicide attack, and the grouping of former premier Nawaz Sharif are set to form the government.

Their parties trounced the political supporters of Musharraf, a key US ally in the “war on terror” since he abandoned Pakistan's support for Afghanistan's Taliban regime in 2001.

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