Deadly blast kills 12 in Pakistan

A team of militants launched a gun, rocket and suicide attack on an intelligence office in central Pakistan today, killing 12 people.

The raid in Multan demonstrates the determination of militants despite a major army offensive in one of their Afghan border havens. It came a day after twin bombings at a market in the eastern city of Lahore killed 49.

Today’s blast ripped the fronts off of several buildings in a part of the town largely reserved for government and security agencies.

Also damaged was the apparent target of the blast, a building housing an office of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.

Senior police officer Agha Yusuf said at least three militants in a car carried out the attack. One of them first fired a rocket and an automatic weapon at a police checkpoint. Then the men drove the car to the intelligence agency and detonated it.

He said security force members were among the 12 dead.

The attack came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited nearby Afghanistan, where he said Washington was ready to work more closely with Pakistan to fight the militants.

“The more they get attacked internally ... the more open they may be to additional help from us. But we are prepared to expand that relationship at any pace they are prepared to accept,” he said.

The US has waged its own campaign of missile strikes against insurgent targets in the border region. The latest suspected airstrike destroyed a car carrying three people in a village near Mir Ali, a main town in North Waziristan.

Most militant attacks in recent weeks have been directed at security forces, though several have targeted crowded public spaces such as markets, apparently to create public anger and increase pressure on the government to stop the South Waziristan offensive. At least 400 people have been killed since October.

The Taliban generally claim responsibility for attacks on security officers, but not those that kill civilians, though they – or affiliated extremist groups - are suspected in all the strikes.

Late last night, twin blasts and a resulting fire ripped through the Moon Market, a centre in the eastern city of Lahore that is popular with women and sells clothing, shoes and cosmetics. Lahore police chief Pervaiz Lathore said today the death toll in the blasts reached 49, with more than 100 people wounded.

Authorities initially said both bombs at the market were believed to be remote-controlled, but they later said a suicide bomber was suspected to have detonated at least one of them.

Earlier yesterday, a suicide bomber killed 10 people outside a court in the north-western city of Peshawar.

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