Peshawar, Pakistan: Two bombs exploded on Thursday in the Pakistani city of Peshawar killing six people and gunmen on rooftops ambushed police as they arrived at the scene, officials and witnesses said.
The blasts came a day after a suicide gun and bomb attack in Lahore killed 24 people and wounded nearly 300.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the Lahore bomb, saying it was in revenge for an army offensive in the Swat region, and threatened more violence.
Militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has surged since mid-2007, with numerous attacks on the security forces, as well as on government and Western targets.
The bombs went off in a crowded market area of Peshawar’s old city and caused extensive damage.
Six people were killed and about 70 wounded, provincial government minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour said.
Soon after the blasts, gunmen began firing at police in the area’s narrow lanes.
“There are about five gunmen who have taken positions on buildings and an exchange of fire is going on between them and police,” said witness Munawar Khan.
Television showed pictures of policemen firing their rifles while colleagues strapped on bullet-proof vests.
The attack appeared to be the lastest in a recent string of more sophisticated militant attacks in Pakistan since a group of gunmen launched a coordinated assault on the Indian financial hub of Mumbai in November.
On Wednesday, gunmen carried out a a suicide gun and bomb attack in Lahore killing 24 people and wounding nearly 300.
The Pakistani Taliban earlier claimed responsibility for that attack, saying it was in revenge for an army offensive in the Swat region.
“We have achieved our target. We were looking for this target for a long time. It was a reaction to the Swat operation,” said Hakimullah Mehsud, a militant commander loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.
The army moved against the Taliban in their Swat valley stronghold late last month after the militants had seized a district only 100 km from the capital and a peace pact collapsed.
Taliban aggression and a perception the government was being distracted by political squabbling and failing to act to stop the militants had alarmed the US and other Western allies.
The government also said the attack in a high-security area in Lahore where a police headquarters, emergency services building and a military intelligence office are located, was in revenge for the Swat offensive.
Pakistan is vital for US plans to defeat Al Qaeda and cut support for the Afghan Taliban and the US has been heartened by the Swat offensive and by public support for it.
“The government’s popularity has shot up a little bit in the polls and that is going to have an effect in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” White House national security adviser General James Jones said in Washington on Wednesday.
But militant attacks in cities could undermine support for the offensive and Hakimullah Mehsud warned of more violence.
“We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to leave those cities as we plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days and weeks,” he added.
Intercepted Phone Call
The military released late on Wednesday what it said was a tape of an intercepted telephone call between the Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan, and an unidentified militant in which Khan urges revenge attacks.
“There’s a need for them to strike soldiers in Punjab so that they can understand and feel pain,” Khan says on the tape, broadcast on Pakistani television.
“Strikes should be carried out on their homes so their kids get killed and then they’ll realise,” he said.
The unidentified man said militants had been ordered to strike wherever they could.
The government has vowed to defeat the Taliban and on Thursday it posted a reward of Rs5 million ($60,000) for the capture, dead or alive, of the Taliban leader in Swat, Fazlullah, and smaller bounties for 20 of his comrades.
The military says about 1,100 militants and about 60 soldiers have been killed in the fighting in the Swat region. There has been no independent confirmation of those estimates.
The offensive has sparked an exodus of 2.3 million people, according to provincial government figures, and the country faces a long-term humanitarian crisis which could also undermine public support for the fight against the Taliban.