, PESHAWAR, Nov 19 – A suicide bomber struck a court in Peshawar on Thursday killing 19 people, the sixth attack on the northwestern city in 11 days as Pakistan presses a major offensive against the Taliban.
The bomber hit at the main gate of the building, near the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel, where at least nine people were killed when attackers shot their way through a security checkpost and blew up a truck bomb in June.
Blood, flesh and shattered window glass littered the ground outside the court building, whose main gate was uprooted and where an old man who used to repair spectacles and fountain pens was killed, an AFP reporter said.
Thursday\\\’s attack showed the militants\\\’ ability to strike in the city of 2.5 million people, which lies on the edge of Pakistan\\\’s lawless tribal belt, where US officials say Al-Qaeda militants are plotting attacks on the West.
Attacks in the northwest have soared as 30,000 Pakistani troops press into Taliban strongholds in the hostile terrain near the border with Afghanistan, where 100,000 NATO and US troops are fighting a deadly insurgency.
"It was a suicide blast. The attacker was on foot and was trying to enter the judicial complex. When the security personnel stopped him, he blew himself up," Sahib Zada Anis, head of the city\\\’s administration, told reporters.
"The death toll has risen to 19 as three seriously injured died in hospital," Anis told AFP, saying that three policemen were among the dead.
Police said the bomber blew himself up as a van carrying prisoners passed.
"It was a huge explosion. I saw smoke and dust everywhere. I fell on the stairs and then I started running to save my life," said Haji Hijab Gul, who was walking upstairs to court when he heard the blast.
The attack came just three days after a suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives, killing four people in a suburb as children were going to school, devastating a mosque, damaging a college and police station.
Pakistan\\\’s security forces are on the front line of a deadly Al-Qaeda-linked campaign that has killed more than 2,550 people in 29 months in the nuclear-armed Muslim country and has recently increased in intensity.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday\\\’s bombing, but Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has vowed to attack the cities to avenge a military assault on its South Waziristan stronghold, now into a fifth week.
"We have hit them seriously. We have taken control of all their stronghold. We have destroyed the militants. Their commanders have either run away or been killed," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Islamabad.
The TTP claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that killed 15 people in Peshawar on Saturday and the bombing of the Peshawar headquarters of the nation\\\’s top intelligence agency, the ISI, on Friday that killed 17 people.
US President Barack Obama has reportedly increased pressure on Pakistan to fight not just Tehreek-e-Taliban, which launches attacks within Pakistan, but Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants active in Afghanistan.
US missiles fired earlier from an unmanned drone killed at least four militants in neighbouring North Waziristan district, Pakistani officials said.
The US military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, which US officials say have killed a number of top-level militants and Islamabad publicly opposes as a violation of its sovereignty.
Pakistan launched its most ambitious offensive to date against TTP on October 17, sending troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships into battle to wipe out militant strongholds in the mountains of South Waziristan.
The United Nations says 268,000 people have been verified as displaced by the offensive staying with relatives, friends or in rented houses.
The Taliban have hit back at claims that they have ceded control of towns in their mountain bastion, vowing their guerrilla war would defeat the troops.
The military says 563 militants and 70 soldiers have been killed since the army offensive began, but none of the losses can be confirmed independently.
Seven militants were killed during the past 24 hours in a gunfight near Kikrai village of South Waziristan where troops are consolidating positions in major towns, a daily military statement said Thursday.