A powerful car bomb detonated in a residential area in Pakistan’s capital on Friday, killing two suspected militants and a police officer, police said, raising fears that militants have a presence in one of the country’s safest cities.
At least three police officers and seven passersby were wounded in the bombing in Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the explosion.
Friday’s bombing happened about 9 miles from the garrison city of Rawalpindi, home of the military and government spy agencies.
Police said in a statement that the blast happened when police officers spotted the car near a checkpoint and ordered the driver to halt for routine checking. Instead of stopping, its driver detonated explosives hidden inside.
The driver, who Pakistani Taliban claim was one of their fighters, and a female passenger in the car were killed, Suhail Zafar Chattha, the deputy police chief in Islamabad, told reporters at the scene.
TV video showed a burning car as police officers cordoned off the area.
Residents said they saw policemen on motorcycles chasing a car and ordering a man inside the vehicle to come out.
Chattha confirmed that account, saying the suspect blew up the explosive-laden vehicle after being surrounded by police. He said the militants might have killed scores of people if they had managed to detonate the car bomb at another site in the city.
Senior police and government officials later attended the funeral of the slain police officer, Adeel Hussain. Pakistan Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan also paid glowing tributes to Hussain and recommended a prestigious posthumous award for his bravery and for saving innocent lives.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and thanked the police.
“Police officers stopped the terrorists by sacrificing their blood, and the nation salutes its brave men,” 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 attack to avenge the killing of a senior leader.
Abdul Wali, widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, was killed in a roadside bombing in August in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province. His death was a heavy blow to the militant group, who blamed Pakistani intelligence agents for the killing without offering any evidence or elaborating.
Pakistani Taliban have stepped up attacks on security forces since November, when they unilaterally ended a monthslong cease-fire with the country’s government.
The latest violence comes days after several Pakistani Taliban detainees overpowered their guards at a counterterrorism center in northwestern Pakistan, snatching police weapons and taking three officers hostage.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s special forces raided the detention center, triggering an intense shootout in which the military later said 25 detainees linked to the Pakistani Taliban were killed in Bannu, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and part of a former tribal region.
Three troops and at least three hostages were killed in that incident.
The government has since stepped up security across the country, based on intelligence reports that the TTP had dispatched fighters to carry out attacks at public places and police stations.
The Pakistani Taliban are separate but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan last year as U.S. and NATO troops withdrew after 20 years of war. Since then, top TTP leaders and fighters have been hiding in Afghanistan.