4 die in suicide bomb attack on Pakistani university
Blast comes amid new army strikes on militant base
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Suicide bombers attacked an Islamic university popular with foreigners in Pakistan’s capital yesterday, killing four students in apparent retaliation for an escalating army offensive on a Taliban and Al Qaeda stronghold near the Afghan border.
An Associated Press reporter close to the battle zone in South Waziristan met a group of Taliban fighters who challenged army assertions of progress in the four-day assault, saying they had pushed soldiers back from the strategic town of Kotkai.
Intelligence officials also said the army had been repelled from the town after being close to taking it. They asked that their names not be used for operational reasons.
The suicide bombers hit a faculty building and a women’s cafeteria at the International Islamic University, where nearly half the students are women and hundreds are foreigners.
The blasts, which left bits of flesh and body parts strewn on the floor, killed two male and two female students and wounded at least 18 others. The two attackers were also killed, officials said.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack on what some people thought was a surprising target for Islamist extremists, but the president of the university and authorities said they believed it was the work of militants in the northwest.
Authorities have been warning that militants would try to bring the war to Pakistan’s cities since the army began its offensive. Many schools and universities were closed after receiving word from authorities on Monday they could be targeted.
After the attack, the government ordered all educational institutions closed for a week in three of four provinces.
The university is attended by 18,000 students. It has close to 2,000 international students, many from China. Although it is a seat of Islamic learning, most students take secular courses such as management science or computer studies.
“Those who call themselves champions of Islam, they have today proved by attacking the Islamic university that they are neither friends of Islam nor Pakistan’’ said Interior Minister Rehman Malik, whose motorcade was stoned by angry students as he left the campus on the outskirts of Islamabad.
Many students did not accept that militants were responsible for attacking a hub of Islamic learning and instead blamed shadowy forces out to discredit Islam or weaken Pakistan - variations of conspiracy theories that are often heard here after bombings. “It shows clearly that anti-Islamic elements are involved in these attacks,’’ said economics student Abul Hassan.
Militants from South Waziristan have claimed responsibility for a string of recent terrorist attacks, including a 22-hour siege on the army headquarters close to the capital and a suicide attack on a UN office in Islamabad that killed five people.