A splinter group of the Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack on a court complex in Islamabad that left at least 11 people dead, among them a judge and several lawyers. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan’s capital since 2008.
Reports said an unknown number of men burst into the court located in a shopping area at around 9am on Monday morning, stormed into the area where the judges’ chambers and lawyers’ offices were located, and opened fire. Two of the gunmen apparently blew themselves up when they were later surrounded by police.
Islamabad police chief Sikandar Hayat told reporters that firing had broken out followed by two suicide blasts. “All the [other] attackers fled, though one sustained injuries in the leg and back,” he said, according to the AFP news agency.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a breakaway faction of the Pakistan Taliban. It came after the Taliban at the weekend announced a month-long ceasefire in order to try and make progress with peace talks with the government.
Reports said a spokesman for the Ahrar-ul-Hind militant group contacted reporters to claim responsibly. The group split from the umbrella of the main Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan group over the latter’s decision to enter talks with the government.
As such, the attack in the the F8 area of the city and the threat posed by such groups highlighted the challenge faced by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in brokering a ceasefire.
Pakistan’s capital has for several years managed to avoid most of the militant violence that has become commonplace elsewhere in the country. Monday’s attack was the deadliest in the city since the September 2008 bomb assault on the Marriott hotel that left more than 50 people dead.
The victims of Monday’s attack were taken to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences. At least 25 people were injured. Among the dead was Judge Rafaqat Ahmad Khan Awan, and Fiza Malik, a 25-year-old woman lawyer who had only recently started work.
Roads around the court were sealed off and school were closed as police and paramilitary forces carried out a search. Images from the scene showed windows blown out, walls broken and people carrying the dead and wounded from the buildings. A number of body parts were strewn among the debris.
The government began peace talks with the Taliban last month but the dialogue broke down after militants announced that they had killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
The military responded with a series of air strikes in the north-western tribal areas that left more than 100 alleged insurgents dead.
Despite the militant attacks and the bombing raids on by the Pakistan airforce, representatives for both sides believe they can make progress. Other observers are much more sceptical.