PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a press club in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday, leaving three people dead in an attack that comes at a time of growing violence and political turmoil in Pakistan.
A policeman tried to search the attacker as he approached the press club’s gate, but the man resisted and was able to trigger his explosives, killing the officer and an accountant who worked for the organization, said Peshawar’s police chief, Liaquat Ali Khan.
A woman who was at the site of the attack died of a heart attack caused by the shock of the bombing, said Sahib Gul, a doctor at a hospital in Peshawar where the three bodies were brought.
Adil Khan, a local photographer who was inside the press club when the attack occurred, said he heard the police officer at the gate, Muhammad Riaz, trying to force the bomber to submit to a search.
“Suddenly a big explosion occurred and smoke made me unable to see immediately what happened,” said Khan. “After a while, I saw Riaz and accountant Mian Iqbal lying dead in a pool of blood and there were some scattered body parts.”
Seventeen other people were injured in the attack, many of whom were traveling in a bus that passed the press club when the explosion occurred, said Gul.
The blast blew out the club’s windows and peppered the wall with shrapnel, while also damaging several surrounding buildings.
Peshawar has been hit by at least seven attacks in the past two months in retaliation for a military offensive launched in mid-October against the militant stronghold of South Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area near the Afghan border. A single attack in late October in a market popular with women and children in Peshawar killed 112 people.
The government has pledged to persevere despite the violence. But growing political turmoil threatens to distract leaders after a Supreme Court decision to strike down an amnesty protecting several senior officials, including President Asif Ali Zardari, from corruption charges.
Former President Pervez Musharraf issued the amnesty in 2007 as part of a U.S.-backed deal to allow Zardari’s wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to return from self-imposed exile. Bhutto was killed in a bombing in December of that year, and Zardari led the party to an election victory in 2008.
One of those affected by the Supreme Court ruling was Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who was convicted several years ago of fleeing the country to avoid two corruption cases and sentenced to three years in prison.
An appeals court in the city of Lahore on Tuesday suspended the prison sentence, allowing Malik to avoid arrest until the judges begin hearings at the end of January. Malik told reporters he was falsely accused.
Since last year’s elections, Zardari has battled both the opposition and a growing insurgency from Taliban and al-Qaida militants who have declared war on the government.
The Peshawar Press Club targeted in Tuesday’s attack is a well-known landmark in the city, and many journalists congregate there.
“Journalists have played a vital role in our war by exposing the terrorists, so they are on the target list too like mosques, bazaars and security institutions,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for Northwest Frontier Province, where Peshawar is the capital.
The press club’s president, Shamim Shahid, praised the police officer who prevented the bomber from entering the building.
“The policeman averted a major incident by sacrificing his life,” said Shahid.