Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: Disguised in a paramilitary uniform, a suicide bomber gained easy entry into the highly guarded office of the United Nations’ World Food Programme here on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding three as he detonated himself in the lobby.

This was the first bombing in the capital since June, and it forced the U.N. to shut down its offices in Pakistan until further notice while it assessed the security of its staff and operations.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the bombing was a “desperate act” by militants “whose back has been broken” in the recent operations in Swat and elsewhere.

“They are like a wounded snake,” he said, that wanted to “destablise Pakistan and give it a bad name”.

Among the dead were two Pakistani women and one Iraqi national. Foreigners were also among the injured.

CCTV footage aired by Geo TV showed a man wearing the black shalwar-kameez Frontier Constabulary uniform entering the door of the office, behind another person, while a third was behind him. The blast followed immediately.

Mr. Malik told journalists on a visit to the attack site that the man in uniform was the bomber. Guards deployed at the gates allowed him to enter the building after he asked to use a bathroom.

Heavy security

The office of the World Food Programme is located in a large house in the capital’s leafy F8/3 residential sector. It is a short walk from the private home of President Asif Ali Zardari, though he does not use it anymore after moving to the presidency.

In addition to being guarded by security guards of a private firm, policemen and Frontier Constabulary personnel, the WFP office was a well-secured fortress.

As with other diplomatic and international missions, the WFP office had recently erected a high wall made of bags of cement encased in hardy wire mesh.

The barriers are meant to absorb the impact of an explosion directed at the building from outside, but in this case, the suicide bomber had no problem gaining entry into the building.

The bomber’s head and legs were recovered from the lobby of the building, where the police said he detonated himself.

Since the Marriott bombing in September 2009, Pakistan-based U.N. organisations have taken extraordinary security precautions, including asking families of non-Pakistani staff to leave the country.

It is not clear how badly the bombing will affect U.N. operations in Pakistan, but it is unlikely that the international organisation will shut shop and leave.

In a statement, U.N. Pakistan Resident Coordinator Fikret Akcura condemned the attack on those who had “worked tirelessly to feed the impoverished and displaced persons in Pakistan” and urged the government to punish the perpetrators.