Attacks on university in Pakistan leave 5 dead, 22 injured


ISLAMABAD — After unleashing a vicious wave of attacks on
high-profile security buildings and crowded marketplaces in Pakistan this
month, militants set their sights Tuesday on one of the capital’s schools. Two
near-simultaneous suicide bomb attacks on an Islamic university killed five
people and wounded 22 others.

The assault on an academic building and a women’s cafeteria
came on the fourth day of a long-awaited military offensive to uproot the
Taliban and al-Qaida from their stronghold in South Waziristan, a rugged and
largely ungoverned region along the Afghan border.

Pakistani military commanders say 30,000 troops have been
steadily advancing from three directions into territory held by the Taliban,
killing 90 militants as of Tuesday. The Taliban has put up fierce resistance,
killing 13 troops since the offensive began early Saturday, officials said.

Authorities had received threats that schools in Islamabad
and its twin city, Rawalpindi, might be targeted for attacks, and on Monday
several schools in both cities shut down. But the International Islamic
University, a sprawling campus that includes many foreigners among its
enrollment of 15,000 students, remained open.

The first blast occurred at a two-story, red-brick building
that houses the women’s cafeteria. Witnesses said as many as 70 female students
were inside when the bomber detonated the explosives at the main entrance.

“It felt like the earth shook, and then there was fire,
smoke and broken glass everywhere,” said Nida Sana, 23, an economics
student who was seated with five friends at the back of the cafeteria. “I
never saw the bomber, but after the blast I saw dead bodies of girls, badly

Saiqa Asim, 37, a cafeteria cashier who survived the blast,
said family members had urged her not to go to work because of the threats that
other schools in the city had received. “I told them, ‘Maybe other schools
are shut, but ours is open, so I have to go,'” Asim said.

“Terrorism is everywhere in Pakistan — this is an
unending wave of terror,” Asim added, standing a couple hundred yards from
the building’s scorched entrance. “I pray that God makes these people
return to the right path.”

Witnesses say about 30 seconds after the blast at the
cafeteria, a second explosion tore through a second-floor hallway at an Islamic
studies building housing classrooms and faculty offices. Zia Uddin, an Islamic
studies student, said he was in the hallway talking on his cellphone to a
friend about the blast at the cafeteria when a suicide bomber detonated a blast
about 12 yards away.

Uddin said there were about 10 students in the hallway, most
of them standing outside the office of Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, chairman of the
Sharia law studies program. Ul-Haq was not in his office at the time.

The blast tore a 4-foot-wide hole into the hallway wall.
Broken glass, blood and smoldering wood littered the floor.

“I was calling my friend about the first blast, and
then the second blast knocked me to the ground and I fell unconscious,”
said Uddin from an Islamabad hospital bed where he was recovering from back and
neck injuries. “When I awoke, I saw parts of bodies scattered here and

While several students described security at the campus as
weak, they said it was important for the university to remain open to send a
message to militants that everyday life in Pakistan won’t be deterred.

“Yes, it’s unstable here,” said Anam Amjed Abbasi,
21, a business administration student who left the cafeteria five minutes
before the blast. “But it’s important for us to not take a step back, to
not run away.”

The university bombings were the latest in a wave of
militant attacks that experts believe represents a strategy aimed at sowing
panic across the country and eroding support for the military operation in
South Waziristan.

In the days leading up to the offensive, militants killed
more than 175 people in a series of commando-style raids and suicide bomb
attacks in Islamabad; the garrison city of Rawalpindi; the country’s cultural
capital, Lahore; and the city of Peshawar in the northwest.

The boldest attack occurred in Rawalpindi on Oct. 10, when a
team of militants raided the country’s equivalent of the Pentagon. They took 42
people hostage before special forces captured one of the hostage-takers and
killed the rest. The attack left 23 people dead.