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A trio of suicide attackers, including a rare female bomber, set off two blasts outside a police station in a northwestern Pakistani city on Friday, killing 11 people in the latest bloodshed in an unrelenting wave of terror plaguing the country.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing in Peshawar city, but suspicion fell on the Taliban, who have been blamed for two weeks of attacks that have killed more than 150 people across the country. The violence appears aimed at forcing the government to abandon a planned offensive into the militants' stronghold in South Waziristan along the Afghan border.
The Friday afternoon attack targeted a heavily fortified police station next to a mosque in the main city in Pakistan's Taliban-riddled North West Frontier Province. A car filled with explosives drove to the main gate of the police station as a motorcycle carrying a man and a woman pulled up behind it, Peshawar police chief Liaquat Ali Khan said.
The woman jumped off and ran toward a nearby housing complex where army officers live, while the man smashed the motorcycle into the car, which exploded into a huge fireball, he said. Police shot at the woman, who detonated explosives she was wearing.
The impact of the blast destroyed part of the police station and the mosque next to it, he said.
"If that woman suicide bomber had not been killed, she might have caused more damage," Khan said.
Television footage showed the upper part of the wall of the brick mosque shorn off. Security forces swarmed the area as ambulances arrived at the scene. A twisted chunk of metal on the ground was in flames, and a small white car's front section was destroyed.
In nearby Lady Reading Hospital, rescue workers rushed wounded victims through the hallways on stretchers.
The blast killed 11 people, including three police officers, two women and two children, Khan said. Another 15 people were wounded, including a criminal suspect who was detained inside the police station at the time of the attack, officials said.
Insurgents have sent attackers wearing military uniforms to bypass security to carry out some of their recent raids. But the use of a female suicide bomber is extremely rare here and could signal a new tactic by the extremists.
In December 2007, what was believed to be the country's first female bomber blew herself up near a Christian school while apparently aiming for a military post in Peshawar. There were no other casualties.
The newest violence came a day after militants launched coordinated attacks on three law enforcement compounds in the country's second-largest city of Lahore, killing 19 people as well as the nine attackers. Also Thursday, a car bomb in Peshawar killed a small child at a housing complex for government employees.
The attacks prompted top political and military leaders from across the country to meet for a security strategy session at the prime minister's residence in Islamabad on Friday.
Two officials said initial investigations into the Lahore attacks showed Taliban from the Afghan border region and militants from Punjab were responsible.
"This was a well-coordinated Taliban operation supported by local groups," Umer Virk, head of the Lahore anti-terrorist police, told The Associated Press.
The violence across the nation has fueled concerns that the Taliban are forging links with other militant groups in the country, an alliance that would vastly increase the threats to the U.S.-allied government. Many ordinary Pakistanis are anxiously questioning whether the state has the ability to avert the danger.
Observers say Punjab's militant problem is most pervasive in its south. But speaking to reporters in Lahore on Friday, provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah played down any such threat.
"The Taliban don't have any authority in southern Punjab, and there is no need for any operation against them," he said.
Sanaullah, who said authorities had arrested some people in connection with the assaults, also defended the performance of security agencies during the standoffs, and said previous intelligence about the possible attacks was too vague to act upon.
The tactics used in Lahore were similar to previous strikes blamed on the Taliban network in South Waziristan and allied militants from Punjab, the nation's most populous and powerful province. The methods include using teams of gunmen carrying suicide vests.
The government has said the planning for the attacks is often done near the Afghan border, while the foot soldiers are recruited in Punjab. In claiming responsibility for another recent attack, the Taliban said one of their cells in Punjab had carried it out.
Pakistanis have grown less inclined to support the Taliban over the past year, opinion polls have shown, but many are expressing anger and helplessness over how to deal with the strikes.
"The terrorists seem more committed to their cause than the government is to eliminating them," said Saima Ahmed, 33, a bank employee in the southern city of Karachi. "Our inherent weaknesses, corruption, and inability to govern the country are now exposed fully. It's total chaos all over the country."
The U.S. hopes that a Pakistani army operation in South Waziristan will help break much of the militant network that threatens both Pakistan and American troops across the border in Afghanistan.
In Lahore, retired police officer Mohammad Sadique blamed the U.S. for the problems.
"So long as the American forces are present in Afghanistan, these terrorist attacks in Pakistan will continue," he said, adding that he condemned the strikes because "no Muslim can kill his own brother or sister."
The Pakistani army has given no time frame for the expected offensive in South Waziristan. It has reportedly already sent two divisions totaling 28,000 men and blockaded the area. Analysts say that with winter approaching, any push would likely have to begin soon to be successful.
This program aired on October 16, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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