By Kamran Haider
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A suicide bomber dressed as a paramilitary soldier attacked an office of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) in the Pakistani capital on Monday, killing five staff, government and U.N. officials said.
Pakistan security forces have made gains this year against al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban militants who have set off bombs in towns and cities aimed at security forces and government and foreign targets.
But hopes that the militants were in disarray following the killing of their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile attack in August suffered a setback when the new Taliban chief surfaced to deny differences in his ranks.
The suicide bomber was disguised as a paramilitary soldier and got into the WFP compound after asking a guard at the gate if he could use a toilet, a government minister said.
A WFP spokesman, Amjad Jamal, said five members of staff had been killed, four Pakistanis and an Iraqi. Two of the Pakistanis were women.
“I went to my office on the first floor and as I sat on my chair there was a huge blast,” WFP official Arshad Jadoon told Reuters outside the tightly guarded office in a residential area of Islamabad.
“All of a sudden, a smoke cloud enveloped the building and we came out where wounded people were lying,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the attack was a heinous crime.
“This is a terrible tragedy for the U.N. and for the whole humanitarian community in Pakistan,” he said in a statement condemning the bombing “in the strongest terms.”
The United Nations temporarily closed its office in Pakistan after the blast for security reasons, a U.N. spokeswoman said.
Two foreign U.N. workers were killed in a suicide car bomb attack on a hotel in the northwestern city of Peshawar in June.
Monday’s blast led to a brief spate of selling at Pakistan’s main stock market but the market recovered to end 0.35 percent higher at 9,487.95 points.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had been saying the back of the Pakistani Taliban has been broken but the militants have struck back with several bombs in recent days as the army prepares to launch an offensive on their main bastion in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
New Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud met a small group of journalists in South Waziristan on Sunday to dismiss speculation of infighting over leadership of the alliance of 13 factions.
Pakistani and U.S. officials had said they believed that Hakimullah might have been killed in a firefight with a rival faction led by commander Wali-ur-Rehman weeks ago in a dispute about who should take over from Baitullah.
Hakimullah looked relaxed and a little fatter than when a group of reporters last met him late last year as he sat with Rehman on the ground under a sunny sky with other Taliban commanders as armed guards stood by.
“Wali-ur-Rehman is sitting beside me and the only difference between us was that he was asking me to become Taliban leader and he was insisting on me taking charge,” Hakimullah said in comments broadcast on Dawn TV.
Malik repeated his assertion that the back of the Pakistani Taliban had been broken but he warned of more attacks.
“They are like a wounded snake,” Malik said, adding that captured militants had told interrogators some bombers had been sent off on missions last month.
“So in coming days, two or three suicide bombings are expected,” he said.
Malik said the bombers were trying to destabilize the country but the nation was united against them.
“In a matter of a few days we’ll take action against them as we took in Swat, Bajaur and Mohmand,” Malik said, referring to three northwestern areas where security forces have attacked and pushed back the militants. He did not elaborate.
Speculation about an assault on South Waziristan is rising as the United States has been stepping up pressure on Pakistan to go after Afghan Taliban factions based in northwestern enclaves.
With Afghan violence reaching new heights, the United States is weighing options on how to deal with the insurgency eight years after driving the Taliban from power.
The U.S. commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said in an assessment leaked last week Afghan insurgent leaders were based in Pakistan.
Pakistan denies that but many analysts say Pakistan is acting only against militants which are a threat to itself, like the Pakistani Taliban.
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Sahar Ahmed; Writing by Robert Birsel)