GWEN IFILL: A wave of violence hit Pakistan today. Militants attacked a political rally, killing 45 Pakistanis. And a U.S. diplomatic mission came under attack, the first time that’s happened since 2006. All Americans were accounted for, but four Pakistanis were killed.
The first explosion shook the city of Peshawar early in the afternoon, within 20 yards of the U.S. Consulate’s main gate. A suicide attacker blew up his car at a checkpoint, sending a massive cloud of smoke and debris into the sky. Moments later, as some of the injured were carried away, a second car bomb exploded at another checkpoint, as militants wearing security uniforms fired mortars and grenades.
A security camera captured the moment of the second blast, as two of the attackers stood in front of the car. Pakistani police said four were killed, some still wearing suicide vests. None got inside the compound.
LIAQUAT ALI KHAN, Peshawar police chief: Two suicide bombers tried to enter, but when this vehicle exploded, those suicide — suicide bombers were also hit by the detonating wave, and they also died at the spot. And we recovered a jacket from their body. They were dead.
GWEN IFILL: A short time later, as investigators examined the debris, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility and promised more attacks to come. U.S. officials condemned the assault.
P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs: The attacks today are a part of a wave of violence perpetrated by brutal extremists who seek to undermine Pakistan’s democracy and sow fear and discord.
GWEN IFILL: Hours before the latest attack, another suicide bomber killed dozens of Pakistanis at a political rally 50 miles northeast of Peshawar.
That city is capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Province and a gateway to the Afghan border region where Taliban and al-Qaida forces are based. But there had been a relative lull in violence there over the last three months. That’s partly because of stepped-up Pakistani security and an increase in U.S. drone aircraft attacks.
The New York Times today cited unnamed government and insurgent sources as saying the strikes have cast a pall of fear over the militants. It said they have stopped meeting in large groups and abandoned satellite phones to avoid being detected.
Today’s attacks showed militants are still capable of coordinated mayhem. And they came at a time of heightened political tension. Last week, the country’s anti-corruption agency asked Swiss authorities to reopen a graft case against Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, but the Swiss declined.
Zardari, who has been under increasing pressure, today urged parliament to strip his office of some of its sweeping powers.