Gunmen attacked trucks carrying supplies to NATO forces in Afghanistan, gutting several dozen vehicles in an inferno and killing seven people in a brazen assault near Islamabad, police said Wednesday.
The overnight attack was unprecedented for its proximity to the Pakistani capital, taking place at a depot on the outskirts of Islamabad on the road to the northwestern city of Peshawar and towards the main NATO supply route into Afghanistan.
Although militants have routinely attacked supplies for US and NATO-led foreign forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, the assault was one of the worst and underlines insecurity on the doorstep of the heavily-guarded capital.
Rows of tankers and trucks were reduced to a twisted mass of metal after the towering inferno at the Tarnol depot was brought under control, including a dozen loaded with military vehicles, television footage showed.
"Seven deaths have been confirmed. Four are injured. There is no information about any arrests," said police official Gustasab Khan. The casualties were the drivers of the trucks, their helpers or local people, he said.
Police could not give a breakdown on the number of tankers and containers destroyed at the sprawling Tarnol depot, which is also used by local vehicles.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, similar assaults in the past have been blamed on Taliban fighters.
"Unknown attackers opened fire on vehicles parked at Tarnol. Fire erupted in the tankers and trucks, and over a dozen were set ablaze. They were trucks carrying NATO supplies," said police official Tahir Riaz.
"The vehicles gutted were carrying supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan," Naeemullah Khan, an officer at Tarnol police station, told AFP.
In unconfirmed reports, private television channels said dozens of tankers and containers were destroyed in a series of explosions and a towering inferno, although not all necessarily carrying NATO supplies.
Kalim Iman, inspector general of Islamabad police, told reporters that 10 to 12 attackers had stormed the terminal and then managed to escape, but declined to put a precise figure on the losses.
"Fire has destroyed a number of oil tankers and trailors. We are collecting details. The attackers have been identified. They came on motorbikes and pick-up trucks. They were armed," he said.
"We have launched an investigation. Police are trying to arrest them."
The bulk of supplies and equipment required by the 130,000 US-led foreign troops across the border are shipped through northwest Pakistan, which has been hard hit by shootings and bomb attacks blamed on radical Islamist militants.
But the heavily protected capital has been largely shielded from attacks blamed on Al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militant attacks, which have killed more than 3,370 people since July 2007.
The attacks began as retaliation over a government siege on a radical mosque in Islamabad and flared last year as the military fought major campaigns against Taliban in the northwest regions of Swat and South Waziristan.
Washington says Pakistan's northwest tribal belt, which lies outside direct government control, is an Al-Qaeda headquarters and a stronghold for militants plotting attacks on US-led troops fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Faced with the increasingly deadly and costly conflict between Taliban insurgents and the Kabul government, the United States and NATO allies are boosting their troop numbers to a record 150,000 in Afghanistan by August.