WAH, Pakistan - Agence France-Presse
Two suicide bombers killed at least 45 people outside Pakistan's main military arms factory yesterday, increasing the security challenges facing the fragile coalition government.
The attackers blew themselves up almost simultaneously outside two gates of the sprawling factory complex in the northern town of Wah, near Islamabad. It is one of the country's most sensitive installations.
It was the second incident of suspected militant violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan since key U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf resigned as president on Monday, leaving the pursuit of the "war on terror" to the feuding coalition.
"It's a massive attack," local police chief Nasir Durrani told AFP.
"Two men apparently blew themselves up outside the factory during a shift change. The bombers were on foot and they exploded themselves less than a minute apart," he said.
Local police official Sardar Shahbaz Hussain said 45 people were killed.
"There are 45 people confirmed dead in the blast. The number of injured is very high and we are right now collecting information," local police official Hussain told AFP.
Television footage showed dozens of military rescue workers in fluorescent orange jackets at the scene.
Cluster of industrial units:
The Pakistani Ordnance Factories at Wah is a cluster of about 20 industrial units producing artillery, tank, and anti-aircraft ammunition for the Pakistan armed forces. It employs around 25,000 to 30,000 workers.
It adjoins the historic city of Taxila where thousands of tourists come every year to visit ancient Buddhist ruins.
Factory worker Riaz Hussain said most of the victims were laborers who were joining the afternoon shift.
"I was working in the factory when I heard one blast and then another. They were huge," he told AFP.
"Security people then immediately surrounded the place and we were not allowed to go outside. They allowed us out one by one after clearing the area." An official from an ambulance service said that more than 100 wounded, along with the bodies of the dead, had been taken to hospital.
"The blast took place as staff were leaving after finishing their day's duty and it was very crowded," Zaheer Shah, of Edhi Rescue, Pakistan's largest private charity, told AFP.
"We have 25 ambulances working and there also army and factory staff engaged in the rescue work," Shah said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The blasts came two days after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a hospital in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Tuesday, killing 30 people.
Pakistani Taliban militants have warned in recent days that they would launch attacks on the military in revenge for an ongoing army operation in the troubled tribal region of Bajaur on the Afghan border.
The government says that more than 500 militants and around 30 soldiers have been killed during nearly two weeks of fighting in the region. Around 1,000 people have died in a wave of militant suicide bombings since the siege and storming of the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, in which at least 100 people died.