Suicide bomber strikes outside Iranian consulate in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suspected suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside the Iranian consulate in an upmarket section of this northwestern city Monday evening, killing two Pakistani paramilitary soldiers and wounding 10 people, officials said.

The latest violence to rock Peshawar came when the vehicle was stopped by soldiers outside the consulate in the University Town district, which houses offices of the United Nations and international aid agencies. The blast occurred outside tents belonging to members of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps, who were guarding the consulate, officials said.

Farhad Khan, a spokesman for the Khyber Teaching Hospital, told reporters that the bodies of two soldiers had arrived at the facility and that of the 10 injured, seven were soldiers.

Police officials said the blast appeared to have been a suicide bombing. Two unexploded devices that were hidden in the car were later defused by a police bomb unit.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the attack comes amid a rash of bombings and targeted killings by Islamist militants in and around Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the border with Afghanistan.

Some of the violence has targeted Pakistan's minority Shiite Muslim population. A day earlier, a roadside bomb struck a passenger bus some 50 miles south of Peshawar, in a town where Shiites have often been attacked by militants. Iran, Pakistan's neighbor to the west, is a predominantly Shiite nation.

Peace talks between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and the outlawed Pakistani Taliban insurgent group were suspended last week after militants reportedly killed 23 paramilitary soldiers in their custody. The Pakistani military responded by launching new airstrikes against militant hideouts in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber Agency.

Earlier Monday, a high-profile Pakistani Taliban leader, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in North Waziristan, officials said. Bhittani, seen as an important member of the insurgent group's central leadership, was reportedly killed outside of Dargah Mandi, near the Afghan border.

News reports quoted a family member saying that unidentified gunmen in a car shot Bhittani along with his driver and two bodyguards. The Pakistani Taliban didn't immediately confirm his death.

Bhittani served as the insurgent group's acting head after former leader Hakimullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike in November.

Ali is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Shashank Bengali contributed to this report from Washington.