RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – A suicide bomber attacked a Pakistani military bus taking medical corps staff to work in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Monday, killing himself and four military personnel, security officials said.
Violence has intensified in Pakistan in recent months, with the army battling militants in the northwest and suicide bomb attacks in towns and cities, raising concern about prospects for the nuclear-armed country in the run-up to February 18 elections.
The bomber was on a motorcycle that rammed into the bus during the morning rush hour outside the army’s National Logistics Cell. Several vehicles were badly damaged and army caps were scattered on the floor of the destroyed bus.
City police chief Saud Aziz said the bomber killed himself and four others and the military said the four dead were its personnel. Police said about 25 were wounded, 10 seriously.
It was the seventh suicide bomb blast in Rawalpindi, where the army has its headquarters, in the past six months. The bomb went off about 100 meters (yards) from the rear of the army headquarters compound.
Earlier attacks included a blast on a bus taking staff of the main military intelligence agency to work and a gun and bomb attack that killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as she was leaving an election rally on December 27.
A top interior ministry official in Punjab province, of which Rawalpindi is part, said more bombers were plotting to strike.
“We are receiving information that a new spate of these terrorist bombers is on and they have entered the province of Punjab in different localities,” provincial home secretary Khusro Pervaiz Khan told Dawn TV.
Punjab is the most important battleground in the parliamentary elections that are meant to complete a transition to civilian rule. The polls were scheduled for early January but were postponed to February 18 after Bhutto was killed.
Punjab is home to about half of Pakistan’s population of 160 million people.
The province returns about half of the members of the lower house of parliament and whichever party wins in Punjab will win the vote, analysts say.
Some Pakistanis believe that President Pervez Musharraf, whose popularity has slumped over the past year and whose allies look set to do badly in the vote, might use violence as an excuse to postpone the elections again.
The government has blamed an al Qaeda-linked militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who is based in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, for the attack on Bhutto and many of the other recent attacks across the country.
The military has stepped up operations against Mehsud in recent weeks after his men attacked and captured a remote fort.
Security analysts fear the militants will launch more attacks in the run-up to the vote as part of their campaign to destabilize the country.
Separately, a bomb exploded near a hospital in the northwestern town of Landikotal close to the Afghan border but caused no casualties or damage, a government official said.