ISLAMABAD, Nov 6 – A Pakistani brigadier escaped assassination on Friday in the third gun attack targeting army officers in the capital since the military launched a major offensive against the Taliban in the northwest.
Gunmen travelling on a motorbike shot the brigadier and his driver at close range in the ordinarily peaceful, middle-class neighbourhood of I-8 on the outskirts of the leafy capital during the morning rush hour, police told AFP.
There was no claim of responsibility but Pakistan’s security establishment has been in the crosshairs of increasingly brazen militant attacks underscoring the extremists’ reach in the frontline state of the US-led war on Al-Qaeda.
"Two army officials, including one brigadier, were injured when unknown gunmen opened fire on their vehicle," Doctor Nasir Ahmad told AFP at the capital’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences hospital.
"Both have firearms injuries but both are stable," he added.
Security officials identified the brigadier as a military intelligence official. Gunmen apparently followed his vehicle after he left his home and opened fire when he was on way to his office, they said.
"It was around 9:15 am (0415 GMT). I woke up after hearing sudden gunfire," said property dealer Amin Chughtai.
"I thought my house was under attack. I peeped out of my window. People had gathered outside. I was scared. I didn’t go out. I found out later that gunmen targeted a vehicle and some people were wounded," said the 46-year-old.
Watchman Hakeem Shah said shards of glass littered the street immediately after the attack, but the vehicle was removed and the casualties evacuated.
Friday’s shooting was the third targeting senior army commanders in Islamabad since the military last month put 30,000 troops into battle against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the tribal region of South Waziristan.
On October 22, a Pakistani brigadier on leave from a UN peacekeeping mission was shot dead. On October 27, a gunman opened fire on a car carrying another brigadier with his mother, but the driver sped off and no one was wounded.
Tensions are high in and around the capital, where police checkpoints have mushroomed and high-security targets have increasingly disappeared behind giant concrete blast walls following a two-month spike in bloodshed.
Most audacious was an assault last month on army headquarters in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi where 10 gunmen kept up a nearly 24-hour siege claimed by TTP.
The recent attacks, in which more than 300 people died last month alone, come amid Pakistan’s latest offensive, launched on October 17, in the tribal belt on the Afghan border where Al-Qaeda is accused of plotting attacks on the West.
Since the three-pronged offensive began, commanders claim to have captured a string of TTP-held towns and villages in their most ambitious offensive yet against homegrown Taliban, which has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Kilian Kleinschmidt, a senior UN refugee agency official, said that 330,000 displaced people from South Waziristan had been registered, although only 165,000 people have so far been verified by a national database authority.
So far, the military says 422 militants and 42 troops have been killed in South Waziristan — far fewer military losses than in previous offensives into the same forbidding mountains that ended with controversial peace deals.
The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.