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A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the United Nations World Food Programme office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, killing at least four and wounding several others. The UN temporarily shuttered its Pakistan offices after the strike.
Monday's bombing – the first in Islamabad since June – shows that there's no room for complacency in Pakistan either. It may also renew questions on the effectiveness of the US' counterterrorism strategy in the country.
The dead in Monday's attack included three Pakistanis and an Iraqi national, reported Dawn, a Pakistani daily, though other outlets had different casualty figures. (See a map from Agence France-Presse of where the attack took place here.)
'According to the latest reports, four people have been martyred — one of them is an Iraqi national. Six people have been injured, all of them are Pakistanis,' Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters. ...
The [UN World Food Programme] confirmed in a statement from Rome that three of its staff members had died in the blast, with two UN employees still in a critical condition.
AFP reported that no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it may be the handiwork of a regrouped Taliban in Pakistan. The militants have killed more than 2,100 people in the past two years, according to AFP.
Three bomb blasts in the past two-and-a-half weeks in the northwest have killed 28 people, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for one of the blasts and threatening to unleash bigger assaults.
There was a lull in bomb attacks after Baitullah Mehsud's death in an August 5 US drone strike, but analysts had warned that the new Taliban leadership would likely be keen to show their strength with fresh, dramatic strikes.
The blast came just hours after two British officials, including the defense minister, arrived in Islamabad for talks on counterterrorism with Pakistani officials, the Telegraph reported.
The Associated Press noted that the Taliban's new leader in Pakistan, Hakimullah Mehsud, on Sunday appeared before reporters and "vowed to strike back at Pakistan and the U.S. for the increasing number of drone attacks in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan."
Unmanned drones have carried out more than 70 missile strikes in northwestern Pakistan over the last year in a covert program, killing several top militant commanders along with sympathizers and civilians. The Pakistani government publicly protests the attacks but is widely believed to sanction them and provide intelligence for at least some.
American officials have said they are considering a strategy of intensified drone attacks combined with the deployment of special operations forces against al-Qaida and Taliban targets on the Pakistani side of the border — part of an alternative to sending more troops to Afghanistan in what is an increasingly unpopular war.
The drone strategy is not uniformly popular in the US. In an interview published on the Council of Foreign Relations' website in August, the Council's Micah Zenko criticized the U.S.' unannounced policy of CIA-controlled Predator strikes. One problem, he said, was a rapidly expanding list of targets.
Al Qaeda hasn't been the only target "since summer 2008 when the Bush administration widely expanded the number of people who could be hit and the decision was made to essentially turn the CIA into a counterinsurgency air force for the government of Pakistan, which in many respects we are today," he said.