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Blasts in Peshawar, 5 dead

Reuters
May 29, 2009 at 03:36am IST

Peshawar: Two bombs exploded on Thursday in the Pakistani city of Peshawar killing five people, a rescue official said, hours after the Taliban claimed an attack in Lahore the previous day and warned of more violence.

Police were firing at suspected militants in the narrow lanes of Peshawar's old city after the blasts, police said. Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged since mid-2007, with numerous attacks on the security forces, as well as on government and Western targets.

"They were two bomb blasts. There are casualties but I don't know the numbers. A building has caught fire," senior police officer Mohammad Anis told Reuters. The bombs went off in a crowded market area of the city.

UNDER PERMANENT FIRE: An man injured in the Peshawar blast is rushed to safety.

"I can see about 15 wounded people lying on the ground. People are running out of their shops," city resident Tahir Ali Shah told Reuters by telephone. Zulfiqar Ahmed, an official with the Ehdi Rescue Centre, said his men had taken five bodies to a hospital and about 30 people had been wounded.

The blasts came a day after a suicide gun and bomb attack in the city of Lahore killed 24 people and wounded nearly 300. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it was in revenge for an army offensive in the Swat region.

"We have achieved our target. We were looking for this target for a long time. It was a reaction to the Swat operation," said Hakimullah Mehsud, a militant commander loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

The army moved against the Taliban in their Swat valley stronghold late last month after the militants had seized a district only 100 km from the capital and a peace pact collapsed.

Taliban aggression and a perception the government was being distracted by political squabbling and failing to act to stop the militants had alarmed the United States and other Western allies.

The government also said the attack in a high-security area in Lahore where a police headquarters, emergency services building and a military intelligence office are located, was revenge for the Swat offensive.

Pakistan is vital for US plans to defeat al Qaeda and cut support for the Afghan Taliban and the United States has been heartened by the Swat offensive and by public support for it.

"The government's popularity has shot up a little bit in the polls and that is going to have an effect in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan," White House National Security Adviser General James Jones said in Washington on Wednesday.

But militant attacks in cities could undermine support for the offensive and Hakimullah Mehsud warned of more violence. "We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to leave those cities as we plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days and weeks," he told Reuters by telephone. The military released late on Wednesday what it said was a tape of an intercepted telephone call between the Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan, and an unidentified militant in which Khan urges revenge attacks.

"There's a need for them to strike soldiers in Punjab so that they can understand and feel pain," Khan says on the tape, broadcast on Pakistani television. "Strikes should be carried out on their homes so their kids get killed and then they'll realise," he said.

The unidentified man said militants had been ordered to strike wherever they could. The government has vowed to defeat the Taliban and on Thursday it published an offer of a reward of 5 million rupees ($60,000) for the capture, dead or alive, of the Taliban leader in Swat, Fazlullah, and smaller bounties for 20 of his comrades.

The military says about 1,100 militants and about 60 soldiers have been killed in the fighting in the Swat region. There has been no independent confirmation of those estimates. The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, and the country faces a long-term humanitarian crisis which could also undermine public support for the fight against the Taliban.

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