PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomber struck a neighborhood of government buildings and a church in Pakistan's main northwest city Thursday, killing five people and underscoring that militant groups retain strength despite being under siege by the army.
The attack was the second in three days in Peshawar, and the latest in a wave of violence that has killed more than 500 people in Pakistan since October. Insurgents are suspected of avenging a U.S.-supported Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in a northwest tribal region along the Afghan border.
The bomber walked up to a checkpoint along the road and detonated his explosives when a police officer asked him to stop, city police chief Liaquat Ali told the Associated Press. He paid glowing tributes to the slain policeman, saying if he had not acted the attacker might have struck a more crowded area, killing more people.
TV footage from the scene showed shattered glass and debris covering a wide area as security officials arrived. More than a dozen were wounded in the attack.
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Recent militant attacks have struck a range of targets, from markets popular with women to security checkpoints. Thursday's blast rocked a busy sector of Peshawar where buildings housing the state-run airline, a public school and a government insurance company are located. A Catholic church is nearby, preparing for Christmas Eve services.
Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the region's information minister, also noted army installations were close but he "cannot say for sure what the target was."
Also Thursday, a suicide bomber targeting a procession of Shiites detonated his explosives at the gate of a shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad, said Police Chief Kalim Imam. Men were making their way to the shrine, with women already inside, as the bomber approached. He set off his vest when police challenged him, Imam said. Police official Sajjad Hussein said a 4-year-old girl was killed. One policeman was also wounded.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber set off explosives at the Peshawar Press Club, a brazen attack on the media in what has long been an unsafe environment for journalists to operate.
Peshawar has been hit at least seven other times in the onslaught that began in October. In one case, at least 112 people died when a car bomb went off in a market frequented by many women — one of the country's deadliest attacks ever.
The government condemned the bombings but vowed it would not be deterred in its battle to eliminate the Pakistani Taliban from its soil.