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Updated: October 28, 2009 01:15 IST

Brigadier attacked in Islamabad

AP
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A police officers instructs the displaced women who fled fighting between security forces and militants in Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan, wait for relief goods at distribution center in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan on Tuesday. Photo: AP
AP A police officers instructs the displaced women who fled fighting between security forces and militants in Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan, wait for relief goods at distribution center in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Pakistan's army pushed deeper into a Taliban sanctuary close to the Afghan border on Tuesday, claiming to have killed 42 militants in the latest stage of an offensive against extremists blamed for relentless attacks in recent weeks .

In the capital, gunmen attacked a high-ranking Pakistani army officer in the second targeted shooting against top military brass in less than a week, part of a wave of violence sweeping the country in apparent retaliation for the 11-day-long offensive in South Waziristan.

The army officer, and his mother who was travelling with him, escaped unhurt from the assault in Islamabad.

The fight in South Waziristan is seen as a major test of Pakistan's will and ability to tackle the northwestern strongholds of al-Qaeda-allied extremists that have festered for years, largely untroubled by ground assault. The nuclear-armed state has been criticized in the past for not cracking down on Islamist militant groups it once nurtured for use as proxies in India and Afghanistan.

An army statement said troops were progressing well on three fronts in South Waziristan, but were meeting resistance.

It said that over the last 24 hours, at least 42 militants and one solider had been killed.

Independent verification of army claims in the region is difficult because the military has blocked access for journalists and humanitarian workers.

On Tuesday in Islamabad, gunmen attacked an army brigadier, equivalent to a brigadier general in the U.S. army, as he was driving to a bank in a residential area.

Muhammad Imran, who runs a business nearby, said he saw a young man take out a weapon from beneath his shawl and unleash a hail of bullets as the car slowed down for a speed bump.

``He was firing relentlessly. He was targeting the front seat of the car,'' Imran said.

Another young man on a motorcycle then appeared and the two sped away, Imran said.

Senior police officer Bin Yamin said the army officer, who was not identified, was not in uniform but was driving a government car. Such vehicles have official license plates that bear an army insignia.

Last Thursday, gunmen on a motorcycle fired on an army jeep in another part of Islamabad, killing a brigadier and a soldier in what was believed to be the first assassination of an army officer in the capital.

Militant attacks in Pakistan have surged this month, killing more than 200 people, as the Taliban apparently tried to avert the offensive.

The army has deployed some 30,000 troops to South Waziristan to take on an estimated 12,000 militants, including up to 1,500 foreign fighters, among them Uzbeks and Arabs. The U.N. says some 155,000 civilians have fled the region.

Meanwhile, authorities announced the arrest of the alleged mastermind behind two recent bombings in the main northwest city of Peshawar. Top police official Malik Naveed Khan did not identify the suspect nor did he say when the arrest happened. The attacks this month killed 49 people in a market area and wounded several in a recreational facility elsewhere in the city.

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