A powerful car bomb exploded in a residential area of Pakistan’s capital on Friday, killing two suspected militants and a policeman, police said, raising fears that militants were present in one of the country’s safest cities.
At least three policemen and seven bystanders were injured in the attack in Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Friday’s bombing happened about 9 miles from the garrison town of Rawalpindi, headquarters of the army and government spy agencies.
Police said in a statement that the explosion occurred when officers spotted the car near a checkpoint and ordered the driver to pull over for a routine check. Instead of stopping, its driver detonated explosives hidden inside.
The driver, who the Pakistani Taliban said was one of their fighters, and a female passenger in the car were killed, Islamabad deputy police chief Suhail Zafar Chattha told reporters at the scene.
Television video showed a burning car as officers cordoned off the area.
Residents said they saw police on motorcycles chasing a car and ordering a man inside the vehicle to get out.
Chattha confirmed that account, saying the suspect detonated the explosive-laden vehicle after it was surrounded by police. He said the militants might have killed dozens of people if they had succeeded in detonating the car bomb at another site in the city.
Senior police and government officials later attended the funeral of slain policeman Adeel Hussain. Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan also paid a glowing tribute to Hussain and recommended a prestigious posthumous award for his bravery and for saving innocent lives.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the attack and thanked the police.
“The police arrested the terrorists by sacrificing their blood, and the nation salutes its brave,” Sharif said in a statement.
Mohammad Khalid Khurasani, the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP, said in a statement that one of the group’s militants carried out the suicide bombing to avenge the killing of a senior leader.
Abdul Wali, widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, was killed in a roadside bomb attack in August in Afghanistan’s Paktika province. His death was a blow to the militant group, which blamed Pakistani intelligence agents for the killing without offering any evidence or giving further details.
The Pakistani Taliban have intensified their attacks on security forces since November, when they unilaterally ended a months-long ceasefire with the country’s government.
The latest violence comes days after several Pakistani Taliban detainees overpowered their guards at a counter-terrorism center in northwestern Pakistan, snatched weapons from police and took three officers hostage.
On Tuesday, Pakistani special forces raided the detention center, triggering an intense gunfight in which the army later said 25 detainees linked to the Pakistani Taliban had been killed in Bannu, a district of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and part of an ancient tribal region.
Three soldiers and at least three hostages were killed in this incident.
The government has since tightened security across the country, based on intelligence reports that the TTP sent fighters to carry out attacks in public places and police stations.
The Pakistani Taliban are separate from but allied with the Afghan Taliban, which seized power in neighboring Afghanistan last year as US and NATO troops withdrew after 20 years of war. Since then, the main leaders and fighters of the TTP have been hiding in Afghanistan.