At least 11 people killed and dozens wounded in firing at Islamabad court

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - At least 11 people were killed and 24 wounded on Monday in a gun and suicide bomb attack at a court complex in the heavily-guarded Pakistani capital Islamabad, police said.

Pakistan has been in the grip of a bloody homegrown Taleban insurgency since 2007 but attacks within the capital have been very rare in recent years.

It was not immediately clear who was behind Monday’s attack, which came two days after the Pakistan Taleban announced a month-long ceasefire aimed at restarting stalled peace talks with the government.

Islamabad police chief Sikandar Hayat told reporters firing broke out, followed by two suicide blasts which killed 11 people and wounded 24.

“All the (other) attackers fled, though one sustained injuries in the leg and back,” he said.

An AFP reporter at the scene saw blood and human remains in the court complex.

The death toll was confirmed by other police officials and the spokesman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Ayesha Isani.

Ms Isani said 20 wounded had been brought to the institute, half of them in critical condition. The dead included a sessions judge, according to police.

Roads around the court, located in a prosperous residential sector of the city popular with foreign residents, were sealed off as police and paramilitary forces carried out a search. Lawyer Murad Ali Shah described the dramatic moment the carnage began.

“At 9.00 am around 15 armed men surrounded the court compound. They entered the chamber and started firing,” he told AFP, adding that he had helped recover several bodies.

“The attackers were armed with Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. They were wearing shalwar kameez and had long beards and long hair.”

On Sunday, the Pakistani government announced it was halting air strikes against suspected Taliban hideouts in the country’s restive tribal areas along the Afghan border in response to the militants’ ceasefire.

The government began peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last month but the dialogue broke down after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.

The military responded with a series of air strikes in the volatile northwestern tribal areas that left more than 100 insurgents dead, according to security officials.

Despite near-daily attacks by the militants and air strikes by the armed forces, Pakistan’s negotiators have insisted that the door for talks is still open.

The Taleban’s ceasefire announcement on Saturday was met with scepticism by analysts, who said it may have been a tactic to allow them to regroup after they had suffered heavy losses in air strikes.

The government has struck peace agreements with the Pakistani Taleban several times in the past but they have failed to yield lasting results.

The umbrella militant group emerged in response to a raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad, but Islamist violence in the country began to surge in 2004 following the army’s deployment in the tribal areas.

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