A gun and suicide bomb attack targeted a court in Pakistan's capital Monday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 25 others. Most of the victims are lawyers, and two judges are among the dead.
Authorities say one of the lower courts in Islamabad's secure judicial complex was in session when three gunmen wearing suicide vests burst into the room.
A spokesman for a little known militant group, Ahrar ul-Hind, which recently split from the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella group, claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack.
Witnesses say the attackers lobbed hand grenades into the crowd and sprayed people with bullets before blowing themselves up. The explosions sent lawyers and judges in the surrounding chambers and offices running in fear.
A visibly shaken man said the gunmen fired indiscriminately and hundreds of bullets also crossed through a temporary wall, striking people in the adjoining chamber.
A spokesman for Islamabad’s main Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Dr. Altaf Qureshi, said 25 people were hospitalized, five of them in critical condition.
He said most of the victims had bullet wounds in their chests. The spokesman added that the dead included at least five lawyers, one of them a woman.
The assault came hours after the military reported the deaths of two soldiers in a roadside blast in the restive northwestern Khyber tribal region where Islamist militants often attack security forces. Four soldiers were reported wounded.
However, the Pakistan Taliban distanced itself from Monday’s violence, which came two days after the militants unilaterally declared a one-month cease-fire to allow peace talks with the government to resume. Late Sunday the government also said it is ending its bombing campaign against suspected militant hideouts in the northwest in response to the cease-fire call by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP.
The militant organization is a loose alliance of Islamist groups and has claimed responsibility for suicide blasts and other terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of thousands of Pakistanis in recent years. The promise of a cessation of hostilities has raised hopes peace talks between the government and the TTP could resume.
An Islamic cleric, Sami ul Haq, who is acting as a TTP intermediary with the government, hoped the latest violence will not derail the peace efforts.
He said the TTP has denied any links to Monday’s violence and it is for the country’s intelligence agencies to uncover the “third force” trying to sabotage the peace process in Pakistan. But the former member of parliament did not elaborate.