Monday, October 5, 2009

UN offices shut across Pakistan

All the offices of the United Nations (UN)’s agencies will remain closed until further orders, a private TV reported on Monday. According to sources, the decision came in connection with a bomb blast at UN’s office in federal capital Islamabad, which left two Pakistani women and a foreigner killed and eight others injured.

Bomb at U.N Food Office in Pakistan Kills at Least 3

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An explosion apparently caused by a suicide bomber in the lobby of the World Food Program office in Islamabad killed at least three people — one foreigner and two Pakistani women — and wounded eight others on Monday, according to police and United Nations officials.

Ishrat Rizvi, the spokesperson for United Nations operations in Islamabad, said that all U.N. offices in Pakistan were closed immediately as a precaution.

“This is a temporary arrangement to ensure the safety and security of our staff,” she said by telephone.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police officials said the explosion was apparently triggered by a suicide bomber, suggesting as serious security breach in a building tightly guarded by private security officers.

One of the dead women was a receptionist and the other was a logistics officer. The nationality of the dead man was not immediately known.

Fire trucks and police officials immediately rushed to the three-story building in a leafy, upscale residential neighborhood of Islamabad.

Around 80 people work at the heavily fortified United Nations facility, which was equipped with video surveillance cameras, motion detectors and explosives detection devices. The street was barricaded at both ends and vehicles and visitors were allowed entry only after a thorough security check.

The fact that the suicide bomber managed to pass through the security surprised police officials and workers at the office.

There was speculation that someone from within the office helped the bomber to gain entry. Several private security guards were taken into custody for questioning by Islamabad police officers, according to local news media.

“I was on the upper floor when there was the sound of a huge explosion downstairs. I found many of my colleagues lying on the floor full of blood,” a World Food Program employee who declined to be named told The Associated Press. “We immediately put the most critically wounded in a vehicle and rushed them to hospital.”

Residents of the street were rattled by the explosion but expressed annoyance that the district administration had allowed diplomats and United Nations offices to operate in residential neighborhoods of the capital

Saadia Abbasi, a former senator who lives in a nearby house, said she was about to leave her house when she heard a loud explosion. Ms. Abbasi said she saw a car entering the compound moments before the blast rocked the neighborhood.

“For four years, I have been writing to the district administration to remove these offices from residential neighborhoods to no avail,” she told reporters from local news media.

The explosion comes at a time when the Pakistani Army is planning to launch a full-scale offensive in South Waziristan, the rugged tribal region in the country’s northwest which is a stronghold of the Taliban.