ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Two suicide bombings, one of them targeting Chinese workers, killed at least 29 people in Pakistan, fuelling a mounting sense of chaos in the South Asian nation.
Authorities were investigating whether the blasts were part of a wave of attacks sparked by the storming of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad last week which have already left over 150 people dead.
In the deadliest of Thursday’s attacks, a suicide bomber blew himself up as a convoy of Chinese citizens and Pakistani security forces passed through the southwestern town of Hub, killing at least 24 Pakistanis, police said.
Hours earlier, another attacker drove his explosives-laden vehicle into the gates of a police college in the northwestern town of Hangu as recruits carried out a morning drill, killing at least five people, they said.
Both attacks left a trail of body parts, blood stains and mangled vehicles.
“The wave of suicide attacks is aimed at creating chaos and unrest in the country,” interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema told AFP, without saying if either was believed to be directly connected to the mosque siege.
President Pervez Musharraf said on Wednesday that Pakistan was in “direct confrontation” with Islamic militants and pledged to attack the hideouts of the rebels behind the bloodshed.
The upsurge in violence has come as Musharraf faces pressure from Washington to launch fresh military action against Islamic extremists, especially on an Al-Qaeda “safe haven” in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
The attack in Hub, in the gas-rich province of Baluchistan, targeted a convoy of seven Chinese mine workers escorted by police and paramilitary troops, provincial police chief Tariq Khosa told AFP.
The force of the blast knocked over several lorries, an AFP photographer at the scene said. The convoy was on its way to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, around 35 kilometres (20 miles) away.
“The bomber driving a Mazda car blew himself up near the convoy. Twenty-four people were killed including seven policemen,” Khosa said.
Asked if police were investigating possible links to the Red Mosque crackdown, he said: “Yes, we are investigating the attack from this angle too.”
Baluchistan has also been wracked by a nearly three-year insurgency by tribal rebels seeking greater autonomy and a greater share of the province’s natural resources, although they have never used suicide bombs.
Key ally China asked Pakistan to step up security for its citizens two weeks ago, after suspected Islamic militants shot dead three Chinese men in the northwestern city of Peshawar in revenge for the mosque siege.
Thursday’s suicide bombing in the northwest meanwhile was the latest in a series targeting police and security installations in North West Frontier Province and Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas on the Afghan border.
The attacker was trying to target hundreds of recruits who were performing a drill on the parade ground at a police recruitment centre but could not get through the gates, area police chief Zulfiqar Cheema said.
“There was a suicide attack. A red Suzuki car smashed into the gates of a police recruitment college in Hangu killing one policeman and four civilians,” the police chief told AFP, adding that 22 were injured, some critically.
Human limbs and body parts were strewn across the road outside the college, along with the burned out shell of the bomber’s car, witnesses said.
Hospital officials said they had received the bodies of five people — a child, a street sweeper, a policeman and two people in a passenger van overtaken by the bomber’s car just before the blast.
Before Thursday’s attacks, violence from the Red Mosque backlash had claimed more than 150 lives. The raid on the mosque and preceding week-long siege themselves left more than 100 people dead, mostly militants.