A team of militants launched a gun, rocket and suicide attack on an intelligence office in central Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 12 people in a strike that showed the insurgents can hit deep in the heart of the country.
The raid in Multan signaled the relentless determination of militants, despite being pressured by a major army offensive in one of their Afghan border havens. It came a day after twin bombings at a market in the eastern city of Lahore killed 49.
In the capital, prosecutors presented the Supreme Court with a list of alleged graft cases involving President Asif Ali Zardari and thousands of other officials that could be reopened if judges there declare illegal a recently expired amnesty protecting them.
The ongoing hearing could lead to legal challenges against the U.S-backed leader's rule, threatening political stability just as the United States needs the country to focus on battling militants also fighting across the border in Afghanistan.
Tuesday's blast ripped the facades off several buildings in a part of the town largely reserved for government and security agencies. Also damaged was the apparent target of the blast, a building housing an office of Pakistan's most powerful spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence.
Senior police officer Agha Yusuf said at least three militants in a car carried out the attack. One of them first fired a rocket and an automatic weapon at a police checkpoint. Then the men drove the car to the intelligence agency and detonated it.
He said security force members were among the 12 dead.
Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq claimed responsibility for the attack in a conversation with an Associated Press reporter in the Waziristan area of the Afghan border region.
The attack came as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited nearby Afghanistan, where he said Washington was ready to work more closely with Pakistan to fight the militants.
"The more they get attacked internally ... the more open they may be to additional help from us. But we are prepared to expand that relationship at any pace they are prepared to accept," he said.
The U.S. has waged its own campaign of missile strikes against insurgent targets in the border region. The latest suspected airstrike destroyed a car carrying three people in a village near Mir Ali, a main town in North Waziristan. The identities of the three dead were not immediately known, said two intelligence officials.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Most militant attacks in recent weeks have been directed at security forces, though several have targeted crowded public spaces such as markets, apparently to create public anger and increase pressure on the government to call a halt to the South Waziristan offensive. At least 500 people have been killed since October.
The six graft cases against Zardari were among those involving 248 officials presented to the Supreme Court. Those against Zardari date back to the late 1990s. One case alleges he misappropriated $1.5 billion.
A statement from the president's office said they were "unproven politically motivated allegations." It has previously said Zardari is prepared to fight any legal challenges resulting from the expiry of the amnesty.
Although Zardari has immunity from prosecution so long as he remains president, some experts say the court could now take up cases challenging his eligibility to run for office.
Associated Press writers Rasool Dawar in Mir Ali, Babar Dagar in Lahore, Munir Ahmad in Islamabad and Anne Flaherty in Kabul contributed to this report.