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Suicide attacks a growing threat in Pakistan

Pakistan has overtaken Iraq and Afghanistan in suicide-bomb deaths this year, its intelligence agency reports. Thursday's attack in Islamabad struck the police's antiterrorism squad.

By Shahan MuftiCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 10, 2008

Another attack: Thursday's suicide bombing in Islamabad targeted the antiterror squad building of the police headquarters.

Emilio Morenatti/AP

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Islamabad, Pakistan

A suicide bomber struck the headquarters of the Anti-terrorism Squad of the Islamabad police force Thursday afternoon, just as lawmakers were preparing to convene 15 miles away to discuss growing militancy in the country.

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The incident added to the rise in bomb attacks that Pakistan has seen over the past year, not only in its troubled northwestern region but also on high-profile targets in major cities like Islamabad, the capital.

"The message [from Thursday's attack] couldn't have been clearer," says Hassan Askari Rizvi, former professor of Pakistan Studies at Columbia University.

The militants, he continues, "want to show that they have the capacity to hit Pakistani institutions – even those ones trusted with the responsibility of protecting the rest."

Suicide bomb attacks have spiked in Pakistan, from two in 2002 to a record 56 in 2007, according to the Institute for Conflict Management, based in New Delhi. As of August of this year, the country had seen 25 suicide-bomb attacks, ICM reports.

In a grim indicator of the rise in attacks, according to Pakistan's intelligence agency, this year Pakistan has overtaken Iraq in suicide-bomb deaths.

It counted 28 suicide bombings in Pakistan that killed more than 471 people in the first eight months of this year. By comparison Iraq saw 42 such attacks and 463 deaths; Afghanistan, 36 incidents and 436 casualties.

Thursday's bombing in Islamabad left no casualties. But it capped off a week of deadly attacks throughout the country. In Dir, near the northwestern Swat Valley where the Army is currently battling militants, a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying prisoners and killed 11 people, including four children in a school bus that was passing by.

On Wednesday, three bombings in Lahore targeting a spot where young men and women are known to mingle freely, injured several women and children. Earlier attacks in the past week targeted politicians.

The attack came the day after Pakistan's newly appointed intelligence chief delivered a rare briefing to lawmakers on the country's militant threat.

Lawmakers will reconvene Monday behind closed doors to discuss a unified strategy to combat the growing militancy in the country.

But more than political will, Pakistan will need to improve its counterterrorism abilities, says Khalid Rahman at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad.

"Most of the time there is no claim of responsibility, and investigations don't uncover much," he says. "Unless we have concrete information on where this is coming from and why, it will be a hard fight to fight."

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