Pakistan, Nov 2, 2009 (AFP) - A suicide bomber targeted workers queuing for their salaries outside a Pakistan bank and hotel on Monday, killing 24 people as the United Nations pulled expatriate staff from the northwest.
The second bombing to kill ordinary civilians in less than a week, the attack near the army headquarters in the garrison city Rawalpindi, showed the enormity of the threat that Al-Qaeda-linked militants pose in Pakistan.
|Pakistani policemen secure the site after a sucide bomb blast in Rawalpindi on November 2, 2009 (AFP photo)|
The explosion outside a building housing a bank and the four-star Shalimar Hotel showered the area with human flesh, smearing blood on the ground and shattering windows, said witnesses.
"We were sitting on the second floor of our office. It was a huge blast," Raja Sher Ali, a marketing manager in a local company, told AFP.
"Our building shook as if in an earthquake and when we came out there was smoke everywhere and body parts were thrown into our office," she said.
A surge in bloodshed left more than 300 people dead last month as Pakistan presses a major offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the tribal belt, where US officials say Al-Qaeda are plotting attacks on the West.
A senior police official said the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.
"The suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and blew up close to people gathered to get salaries. We found parts of a suicide vest and some body parts of the suicide attacker," senior police official Aslam Tarin told reporters.
Deeba Shehnaz, a rescue workers spokeswoman, told AFP from the site that "the death toll has risen to 24" with another 24 people wounded.
The attack off Mall Road was close to the upmarket Pearl Continental Hotel and near Pakistan's army headquarters, where 10 gunmen kept up a nearly 24-hour siege last month that left 23 people dead and deeply embarrassed the military.
The plummeting security saw the United Nations announce Monday it was pulling out international staff from northwest Pakistan, just days at least 118 people were slaughtered in a car bomb in its capital Peshawar.
"They will be relocated. Immediately," Ishrat Rizvi, a UN spokeswoman, told AFP, unable to say immediately how many staff the decision affected.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared the world body had raised the security level to "phase four" in the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a UN statement said.
"The decision has been taken bearing in mind the intense security situation in the region," the statement said.
Last month the UN's World Food Programme closed distribution centres serving more than two million people in the northwest because of security fears.
Stepping up its assault on the Taliban, Pakistan on Monday offered rewards worth five million dollars for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of the country's Taliban warlord Hakimullah Mehsud and 18 lieutenants.
The rewards for the TTP's top-tier warlords were offered in a black-and-white government advertisement on the front page of The News daily and flashed on Pakistani television channels overnight.
"The activities of these brutal people, who have no fear of God, are bringing a bad name -- not only to the Mehsud tribe but all tribesmen... and also give a bad name to Pakistan in the whole world," the advertisement said.
"These people certainly need just punishment. They are the killers of humanity. Help the government of Pakistan to annihilate them."
Mehsud, who took on the leadership mantle after a US drone attack killed his predecessor Baitullah Mehsud in August, headed the list with 50 million Pakistan rupees (600,240 dollars) slapped on his head.
TTP has been blamed for some of the worst attacks in Pakistan, which have killed around 2,400 people in a deadly wave of carnage over the past two years.
Ground troops have been locked in street battles for two days with Taliban in Kanigurram, one of the largest towns in South Waziristan and described as a major operation centre for the militant umbrella group.
Although none of the details provided by the military can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists are barred from independent access to the area, commanders say 306 insurgents have been killed.