Pakistan suicide bombing raises questions about security
die after the attacker disguises himself as a security officer to enter
the heavily guarded Islamabad office of the United Nations' World Food
By Alex Rodriguez
October 6, 2009
Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan
suicide bomber disguised as a Pakistani security officer attacked the
lobby of a heavily guarded and fortified U.N. office Monday, killing
five people and heightening fears of renewed violence in Pakistan's
capital after a long lull in suicide attacks.
bombing occurred at the Islamabad headquarters of the World Food
Program. Dressed in the uniform of a paramilitary police officer, the
bomber asked a security official at the agency's main gate for
permission to use the bathroom, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.
Once he reached the reception area, he detonated about 18 pounds of
explosives. The five victims were World Food Program employees: two
Pakistani women, two Pakistani men and an Iraqi man. At least six
people were injured, two critically.
Malik said today that
Taliban militants carried out the attack to avenge the Aug. 5 slaying
of their leader Baitullah Mahsud in a U.S. drone attack, the Associated
Monday's blast was the first suicide bombing in
Islamabad since June, when an assailant scaled a wall at a police
station and killed two officers.
Since then, the Pakistani
government has strengthened its security measures in the capital and
violence attributed to militants has subsided. Police have increased
the number of checkpoints throughout Islamabad and stepped up scrutiny
of inbound traffic on the city's outskirts.
However, as the
Pakistani military prepares for a major ground offensive to root out
Taliban militants from the country's volatile Waziristan region along
the Afghan border, Taliban leaders have been vowing to strike back with
suicide attacks in major Pakistani cities.
Speaking outside the
World Food Program compound after surveying the damage, Malik said he
had recently warned governmental agencies and the offices of foreign
institutions to be on high alert after receiving intelligence reports
that militants might strike by disguising themselves in security
uniforms or traveling in official vehicles.
"We told them to
not even allow inside a police officer that they know without checking
his identification card first," Malik said.
The bomber was able
to get past tight security at the WFP compound, a two-story building
fortified by concertina wire atop high concrete walls, metal detectors
at the main entrance and a team of security personnel that includes 19
guards from a private Pakistani security firm, three Pakistani
paramilitary police officers and two Islamabad police officers, Malik
Susan Manuel, spokeswoman for the United Nations office
in Islamabad, said the quality of security provided by the private firm
used at the WFP facility is a cause for concern.
"We have private security guards who are not terribly skilled and very
low-paid," Manuel said.
Manuel said the U.N. received security alerts from the Pakistani
government last week that included warnings about two explosives-laden
vehicles that might have entered Islamabad.
But she added that
the U.N. had not received any warnings from Pakistani officials about
the potential for attackers disguising themselves in security uniforms.
She said the U.N. would close its offices in Pakistan temporarily while
it reviews security.
"The WFP has a huge operation here, feeding 2 million people displaced
from the Swat Valley," Manuel said, referring to the region where
Pakistan's military battled militants last spring. "It has a vital
function here. So it's inexplicable and deplorable that anyone would
choose the WFP as a target."
In Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon said the world body's humanitarian work in Pakistan would
continue despite Monday's attack.
"This is a heinous crime
committed against those who have been working tirelessly to assist the
poor and vulnerable on the front lines of hunger and other human
suffering in Pakistan," Ban said.
The explosion damaged the
front part of the building, including the lobby and the agency's
finance department, witnesses said. Broken glass and debris could be
seen strewn across the compound's driveway.
"I went to my
office and sat down at my computer, and then suddenly there was this
huge blast," said Sajad Anwar, a telecommunications assistant at the
WFP office. "When I ran back there to see what happened, I saw people
lying on the floor, very seriously hurt."
The compound, like
those of several embassies and other international aid groups, is in an
upscale section of north Islamabad, where security is tighter than in
other parts of the capital. Some compounds are safeguarded by blast
walls and heavily armed security officers positioned in
sandbag-fortified guard posts.
Attacks such as Monday's
highlight the importance of continually reassessing security while
Pakistan grapples with a militant threat that shows no signs of
abating. Manuel said the U.N. has recently been considering moving its
agencies to another location in Islamabad, possibly the heavily
fortified Serena Hotel complex.
"The U.N. is a bit stunned
because [the WFP office's location] was one of the more secure
locations," Manuel said. "There will be a lot of reassessment of what
to do now."
Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times