RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Two suicide bombers struck near the heart of the Pakistani military on Tuesday, killing 24 people and wounding 66, many of them Defence Ministry staff on their way to work in the city of Rawalpindi.
The blasts come at a time of rising militant violence and deepening political uncertainty in Pakistan, with the army chief and president, General Pervez Musharraf, preparing to try to secure a new term and his opponents vowing to end his rule.
The government dismissed speculation the blasts could lead to the declaration of an emergency and postponement of presidential and parliamentary elections due in coming weeks and months.
One bomb blew up a bus carrying Ministry of Defence staff, about a kilometer (half a mile) from the headquarters of the country’s army, said military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad.
The second went off in a market area of Rawalpindi, the sister city of Islamabad where Musharraf and many other top military officials live and where Islamabad’s international airport is located.
“Both were suicide bombings but I have no detail about how they were carried out,” Arshad said.
Both went off at around 7.20 a.m. (10:20 p.m. Monday EDT).
Earlier, some officials said the staff on the bus were from an agency involved in atomic work, while others said they were from a security agency.
“The bus was totally packed. I saw 15 to 20 mutilated bodies,” said Tanveer Ahmed, a government employee waiting for another bus near the spot, quickly cordoned off by soldiers.
Pakistan has suffered a surge of militant violence since July, when commandos stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad and a peace pact broke down with militants in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
While most of the violence has been in the northwest, there were two suicide bomb attacks in Islamabad in July.
Musharraf issued a statement condemning the blasts.
Deputy Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan said a suicide bomber had apparently managed to get onto the bus that was blown up.
“Anyone who thinks they can destabilize Pakistan will be disappointed. There will be no derailment. Elections will be on time,” Khan told Reuters.
Police initially said the second blast was caused by a bomb on a motorcycle. Several parked cars along the road and nearby shops were badly damaged.
Arshad said he could not give a breakdown of how many people were killed on the bus and how many were killed by the bomb on the motorcycle but other officials said more people were killed in the bus blast.
Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan, who are allied with militants in Pakistan, have carried out several similar attacks on buses carrying government employees to work in the Afghan capital.