ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A suicide bomber disguised as a security officer struck the lobby of the U.N. food agency’s Pakistan headquarters Monday, killing five people a day after the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban vowed fresh assaults, authorities and witnesses said.
The blast raises questions as to how the bomber managed to evade tight security at the heavily fortified World Food Program compound in the capital, Islamabad. It could also hamper the work of WFP and other aid agencies assisting Pakistanis displaced by army offensives against al-Qaida and the Taliban in their strongholds close to the Afghan border.
Hours after the attack, the world body said it was closing its offices in Pakistan temporarily.
“This is a heinous crime committed against those who have been working tirelessly to assist the poor and vulnerable on the front lines of hunger and other human suffering in Pakistan,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva.
Ban said the U.N. will continue its humanitarian assistance to more than 2 million Pakistanis. WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal said the food agency would not halt its aid to refugees fleeing fighting between militants and the army even while its offices were shut. “I want to repeat it again that our operations have not been halted.”
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing. Militants have carried out scores of suicide attacks in Pakistan over the last 2 1/2 years, several of them targeting foreigners and their interests. Under U.S. pressure, Pakistani security forces have recently had some success combating the extremists.
Islamist militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq seeking to attack high-profile Western targets have shown no hesitation in targeting foreign humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations, regardless of the work they are doing in relieving the suffering in the countries.
The blast Monday shattered windows in the lobby of the compound in an upscale residential area of Islamabad and left victims lying on the ground in pools of blood, witnesses said. The office is close to a home belonging to President Asif Ali Zardari.
Medical officials at two hospitals said five people had been killed in the attack, including an Iraqi working for the agency. Two of those killed were Pakistani women. Several others were injured, two of them critically, the WFP said in a statement.
A police official said the attacker, who was in his 20s, detonated his explosives in the lobby. It was unclear how he made it that far. Typically, visitors to U.N. buildings in Islamabad are screened and patted down for weapons and explosives in secure chambers some distance from the entrance to the building.