Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber targets judges in Peshawar

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A suicide bomber from the Pakistani Taliban militant group attacked a van carrying judges in northwestern city of Peshawar on Wednesday, wounding several judges and killing the driver, police said.

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It was the region’s second attack of the day in a new surge in militant violence. In the Mohmand agency area north of Peshawar, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a government office, killing five people.

Security has improved in Pakistan over the past few years but a spate of attacks in recent days, and a threat by hardline militants to unleash a new campaign against the government, has raised fears of bloodshed.

“A suicide bomber on a motor bike rammed into an official van in which some judges were traveling,” senior superintendent of Peshawar police Sajjad Khan told journalists.

Khan said three female judges and one male judge had been taken to a nearby hospital while the driver of the van had been killed. Earlier in the day Geo TV, citing Khan, said two people had died in the attack but that figure was later revised to one.

Mohammad Khurassani, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the group was behind the blast and threatened more attacks.

“We would continue to target Pakistani judiciary and judges as they are helping imprison the mujahideen,” a reference to the group’s fighters.

The Peshawar attack took place in a wealthy neighborhood of the city, where Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school in December 2014 and killed 134 children and 19 adults.

Former cricket star Imran Khan, Pakistan’s main opposition leader, was due to visit the nearby hospital. Khan’s media team said he was safe. Khan’s party rules Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is capital.

Hardline militant group Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the Mohmand blast.

The same group claimed an attack in the city of Lahore on Monday in which 13 people, five of them policemen, were killed.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said the Lahore attack was the beginning of a new campaign against the government, security forces, the judiciary and secular political parties.

Separately on Monday, a bomb squad commander and another policeman were killed while they were trying to defuse a bomb in the southwestern city of Quetta.

The spate of attacks has underlined the threat militants pose to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif despite an army offensive launched in 2014 to push them out of their northwestern strongholds near the Afghan border.

Pakistan had announced a 20-point National Action Plan after the Peshawar school massacre in 2014, the main thrusts of which included expanding counter-terrorism raids, secret military courts and the resumption of hangings.

Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Tom Heneghan