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Top Pakistani army officer assassinated

In the latest strike by militants in Pakistan's anxious and battened-down capital, a senior army officer has been assassinated in rush hour traffic by a gunman who escaped on a motorbike.

In what is believed to have been the first such targeted killing of a high-ranking soldier, Brigadier Moinudin Ahmed's unprotected jeep was sprayed with automatic gunfire at around 9.30am yesterday. The officer and another soldier were killed, while the driver was wounded.

The attack on the crest of a hill on the outskirts of the city is the latest in a wave of strikes across Pakistan that has left more than 170 dead. Ahead of last week's launch by the Pakistan military of a long-anticipated operation against Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters, officials had warned the public to expect retaliatory attacks from militants. But the wave of violence of the past two weeks, including deadly strikes in Lahore and Peshawar, has shown the militants using increasingly sophisticated and varied tactics.

The shooting of Brig Ahmed follows a suicide bomb attack on an Islamic university in the city, an assault on army headquarters in neighbouring Rawalpindi and a strike on a UN office in the capital. Although security has been massively stepped up, with roadblocks multiplying and increasing numbers of security personnel carrying out checks, many fear the situation is deteriorating. Schools have been shut across many parts of Pakistan following the attacks.

"Things have got a lot worse in the last couple of weeks. Everyone here is scared," said Ali Ashgar, a hotel worker. "People also think that the situation is going to get worse as long as the operation in Waziristan continues."

Outwardly Islamabad looks like a city going about its normal business, but an indication of the level of nervousness came yesterday morning when there were reports that a bomb had been found and shots fired at a courthouse. It transpired that the "gunshots" were actually the sound of shopkeepers hastily shuttering their stalls following the false report of a bomb. The nation's stock market fell by nearly 3 per cent on the news.

Last night no one had claimed responsibility for the killing of the officer, but military officials said they had no doubt that the attack was linked to the Waziristan offensive, even though the victim had no connection to the campaign. Brig Ahmed was the deputy head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan and was home on holiday.