Karachi: Militants armed with guns and a truck bomb demolished a police department used to detain terror suspects in Pakistan`s biggest city of Karachi on Thursday, killing 18 people and wounding 130 others.
Pakistan`s Taliban swiftly claimed responsibility for what was a rare attack on government security forces in Karachi, a politically-tense city of 16 million in the south, far removed from militant strongholds in the northwest.
Karachi is Pakistan`s economic capital, home to its stock exchange and the Arabian Sea port where NATO supplies dock to be trucked overland to support the more than 150,000 US-led troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The attackers targeted the police`s Crime Investigation Department in the most heavily protected heart of Karachi, not far from five-star hotel chains frequented by Westerners, the US consulate and Pakistani government offices.
The band of militants opened fire, starting a gunbattle with police before detonating their bomb in an attack that at least one official compared to the 2008 attack on the five-star Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed 60 people.
Off duty policeman Mohammad Arshad, 32, described scenes of horror after narrowly escaping the bomb while popping out for a cup of tea.
"I heard a huge blast. I ran towards the site and saw dead bodies and injured lying on the ground," he told a news agency, blood splattered across his clothes.
"I picked up the people one by one to take them to the hospital. What I saw was beyond imagination."
Witnesses and police said the compound was used to detain criminals and terror suspects. It also contained a women`s and a men`s police station with nearby police residential quarters also badly damaged.
"There are 25 women and 20 children injured. A total of 130 injured people have been brought into two hospitals," Hamid Parhiar, police surgeon for southern province Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, told a news agency.
Doctor Semi Jamali at the Jinnah Hospital confirmed more than 100 people were wounded and said that a police woman was among the dead.
Broken glass littered the area for up to two kilometres (one mile) from the bomb site, where rescue workers installed search lights in the dark as they dug frantically through the rubble for survivors, a news agency reporter said.
Dozens of vehicles were destroyed or damaged in the attack, the aftermath of which saw ambulances screeching through the streets, ferrying casualties to hospital.
"The building has been completely destroyed. I can see a crater of 15 feet (five metres)," police official Tariq Razzaq Dharejo told a news agency.
The Sindh police chief said 18 people were killed and that the attackers dismantled the security cordon at the department by opening fire on police.
"There was an exchange of fire between police and militants. Then it was followed by a truck loaded with explosives," Salahuddin Babar Khattak told reporters at the scene.
"We don`t know how many people (militants) were there, but the exchange of fire lasted for some time."
The CID building was used to hold militants in custody, he said, but no important suspect was in detention at the time of the attack.
"It was a huge blast, which created a big crater, a bit like the Islamabad Marriott hotel," said Zulfiqar Mirza, the interior minister of Sindh.
Sharmilla Farooqi, a spokeswoman for the Sindh government, said five policemen were among the dead.
The Taliban said they had carried out the attack.
"We accept responsibility for this attack. They used to arrest and torture our comrades here. We will target everyone who does this in the same way," Taliban spokesmam Azam Tariq told a news agency from an undisclosed location.
Suicide attacks and bombings blamed on homegrown Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks have killed around 3,800 people across Pakistan, since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad three years ago.
The Karachi bombing came a week after a suicide bombing on a mosque packed with worshippers killed 68 people in northwest Pakistan.
That attack Friday in the Darra Adem Khel region, was followed hours later by a grenade assault on a second mosque in the area that killed four people.
The United States wants Pakistan to do more to fight insurgents crossing into Afghanistan and fuelling a nine-year Taliban uprising against foreign forces supporting the government of Hamid Karzai.
Karachi has already suffered its most serious bout of political violence in years, with more than 150 people killed since August.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which represents the Urdu-speaking majority in Karachi and the Awami National Party (ANP), whose power is rooted in Pashtun migrants from the northwest, blame each other over the violence.