On Monday, a suicide bomber detonated eight kilograms of explosives inside the Islamabad office of the United Nations World Food Program. The bombing, the first in Islamabad since June, killed five people – four Pakistanis and one Iraqi national [including two women], and injured six. Adam Motiwalla, an information officer at the UN agency who was hospitalized with injuries, told the Associated Press, “There was a huge bang, and something hit me. I fell on the floor bleeding.” Another WFP employee, who chose to remain anonymous, noted, “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…We immediately put the most critically wounded in a vehicle and rushed them to hospital.”
Almost all media outlets discussed the alleged “security lapse” that led to the bombing. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters that the attacker, dressed in the uniform of a Frontier Corps unit assigned to guard diplomatic missions in the area, entered after asking a guard if he could go inside the building to use the bathroom. According to the NY Times, “There was speculation that someone within the office helped the bomber to gain entry. Several private security guards were taken into custody for questioning by Islamabad police officers.” Dawn quoted Bani Amin, deputy inspector general of police operations, “We have recovered legs and the skull of the suicide bomber. We are investigating how he managed to enter inside the building. There are scanners, there are cameras, and strict security arrangements.” CBS News added in its coverage, “Typically, visitors to UN buildings in Islamabad are screened and patted down for weapons and explosives in secure chambers some distance from the entrance to the building.”
Following the bombing, UN spokeswoman Ishrat Rizvi announced that UN offices in Islamabad and Rawalpindi “have been closed for security reasons until further notice.” The BBC’s Orla Guerin in Islamabad reported that the blast, just four months after the Pearl-Continental hotel bombing in Peshawar, renewed caution among all foreign organizations operating in Pakistan. However, much like after the Peshawar blast, the UN is “anxious” to keep their activities going.
Although no group has claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack, most news agencies implied the incident could be linked to the Pakistani Taliban. BBC News reported the Taliban “promised revenge for the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike in August and have been behind a series of recent attacks.” According to Dawn, “There was a lull in bomb attacks after Baitullah Mehsud’s death in an August 5 US drone strike, but analysts had warned that the new Taliban leadership would likely be keen to show their strength with fresh, dramatic strikes.” On Sunday, the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s newly appointed chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, met with reporters in the tribal areas for the first time, speaking “on condition his comments not be published until the reporters left the area Monday out of concern their use of satellite phones to file the story could lead Pakistani forces to him.” Mehsud, in the meeting, reportedly vowed to strike back against Pakistan and the U.S. “for the increasing number of drone attacks in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.”
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of Monday’s bombing. Although the attack targeted a foreign organization in Pakistan, the victims were mainly Pakistani. Moreover, the UN’s World Food Program is an agency that provides food and aid to communities who need it most. In a country where 84.6 percent of the population earns less than US$2 per day, the WFP assists the most food insecure people – the poorest of the poor. The agency was instrumental in aiding the millions of Pakistanis displaced by the recent military offensive, establishing 25 humanitarian hubs and food distribution points in the IDP camps since May 2009. While the UN has indicated their activities will continue in Pakistan, attacks like these are atrocious because they target innocent people who are doing the most good. As WFP executive director Josette Sheeran noted, “All of the victims were humanitarian heroes working on the frontlines of hunger in a country where WFP food assistance is providing a lifeline to millions. This is a tragedy – not just for WFP – but for the whole humanitarian community and for the hungry.”
UPDATE 10/6: Taliban militants on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the WFP bombing, saying international relief work in Pakistan was not in “the interest of Muslims.” Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told the Associated Press, “We proudly claim responsibility for the suicide attack at the U.N. office in Islamabad. We will send more bombers for such attacks..The U.N. and other foreign (aid groups) are not working in the interest of Muslims. We are watching their activities. They are infidels.”