, ISLAMABAD, Jun 9 – Gunmen attacked military vehicles and goods destined for NATO in Afghanistan, torching up to 60 trailers and killing seven people in an unprecedented assault near Islamabad, police said on Wednesday.
The overnight attack was the first on NATO supplies so close to the Pakistani capital and entailed one of the biggest losses on the convoys, whose presence is bitterly opposed by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked extremists.
A dozen gunmen stormed the depot on the outskirts of Islamabad en route to the northwestern city of Peshawar and towards the NATO supply route into Afghanistan, where 130,000 US-led foreign troops are fighting the Taliban.
Although militants have routinely attacked supplies for US and NATO-led foreign forces travelling through Pakistan, the audacious assault will raise questions about insecurity on the doorstep of the heavily-guarded capital.
Rows of tankers and trucks were reduced to a twisted mass of metal after the inferno at the Tarnol depot was brought under control, including a dozen loaded with military vehicles, an AFP photographer said.
"There were 60 trailers gutted by fire. In addition to 80 NATO vehicles were partially damaged," Shah Nawaz, police station chief in Tarnol, told AFP.
"Seven people, most of them drivers and their helpers, were killed."
Police official Qadeer Ahmad confirmed the casualties and said 40 trailers, which had been mounted on trucks, were destroyed in the inferno.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, similar assaults in the past have been blamed on Taliban fighters.
"The vehicles gutted were carrying supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan," Naeemullah Khan, an officer at Tarnol police station, told AFP.
Kalim Iman, inspector general of Islamabad police, told reporters that 10 to 12 attackers had stormed the terminal and then managed to escape, but declined to put a precise figure on the losses.
"Fire has destroyed a number of oil tankers and trailers. We are collecting details. The attackers have been identified. They came on motorbikes and pick-up trucks. They were armed," he said.
"We have launched an investigation. Police are trying to arrest them."
The bulk of supplies and equipment required by the 130,000 US-led foreign troops across the border is shipped through northwest Pakistan, which has been hard hit by shootings and bomb attacks blamed on radical Islamist militants.
The heavily protected capital has been largely shielded from attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants that have killed more than 3,370 people since July 2007.
But Lahore, capital of Pakistan\’s wealthiest province Punjab, has suffered a series of deadly bombings this year, most recently from suicide squads who killed at least 82 people at mosques for the Ahmadi community on May 28.
Government officials blamed that attack on Punjab-based militants, who are thought to have forged growing links with Taliban based in the northwest, spotlighting the Islamist menace threatening central Pakistan.
The attacks in Pakistan flared last year when the military embarked on major campaigns against Taliban in the northwest regions of Swat and South Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan in the lawless tribal badlands.
Washington says Pakistan\’s tribal belt, which lies outside direct government control, is an Al-Qaeda headquarters and a stronghold for militants plotting attacks on US-led troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Faced with the increasingly deadly and costly conflict between Taliban insurgents and the Kabul government, the United States and NATO allies are boosting their troop numbers to a record 150,000 in Afghanistan by August.