Marking an escalation in their violent campaign, militants in Pakistan bombed a restaurant popular with Westerners in Islamabad on Saturday night, killing a Turkish woman and wounding five Americans, four of whom were US Federal Bureau of Investigation personnel.
Pakistan has recently been engulfed by a wave of bombings by suspected militants – roughly one bombing every four days this year, according to a calculation by Pakistan's Dawn newspaper, one of Pakistan's leading English language dailies. This was the first attack in six years that appeared to deliberately target Westerners.
On Sunday, in what could have been a direct response, the US military reportedly fired an unmanned US Predator drone fired on targets in South Waziristan, a suspected militant enclave from where Pakistan's Taliban are believed to plan their attacks.
Luna Caprese, an Italian restaurant located across the street from a popular shopping center in the capital, was popular with Western embassy officials, journalists, and nongovernmental workers because of its Western food and the availability of alcohol, reports Dawn.
The bomb went off around 8:40 p.m. when a large number of foreigners were having their evening meal in the restaurant's backyard garden…
The owner of the restaurant had always maintained a low profile, and instead of having heavily armed guards, the outer gate was manned by untrained private guards…
Several people who were present in the super market described the explosion as deafening. One of them said the impact of the blast threw him on the ground, although he was standing on the pavement across the road.
It is unclear if the FBI agents – none of whom were critically wounded – were the target of the weekend's attack. ABC reports that many doubt the attack targeted the US agents.
Multiple sources said that the attack was under investigation to see whether it was based on the terrorists having learned in advance of the agents' presence.
In Washington, meanwhile, officials downplayed the possibility that the attack specifically targeted the agents based on advance intelligence.
They cited the relatively small size of the attack – one in which injuries to the agents were relatively minor – as part of their rationale. Also the explosive does not appear to have been tossed directly at the agents' table.
Recent attacks on foreigners have been limited, Agence France-Presse reports. The last such attack in Islamabad – a 2002 suicide bombing in the diplomatic enclave – killed a US diplomat's wife and daughter. One Pakistani official said Saturday's attack could signal a shift.
"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.
Suicide attackers detonated two huge truck bombs in Pakistan Tuesday, killing 26 people, partly demolishing a police building and deepening a security crisis facing the new government.
Another 175 people were wounded in the attacks in the eastern city of Lahore, which came just minutes apart in the morning rush-hour and left rescue workers scrambling through rubble in a bid to find survivors.
In what could be a stepped-up response by the US military, an unmanned Predator drone fired several missiles at targets in South Waziristan in Pakistan's tribal belt, killing nine people, The New York Times reported.
Three bombs, apparently dropped by an American aircraft, killed nine people and wounded nine others on Sunday in the tribal area of South Waziristan that provides sanctuary to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, a Pakistani security official said.
The strike, the third American attack on suspected terrorists in Pakistan's tribal area in less than three months, appeared to signal a stepped up program by Washington to hit militants who use the area as a base to fight American and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Coalition leaders have threatened to curtail the president's powers, though it is unclear how far they will go.
The new government's most pressing concern is likely to be an Islamist insurgency that has claimed scores of lives in bomb attacks in the last few weeks.