RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Two suicide bombers killed at least 18 people Saturday morning in almost simultaneous attacks on Pakistani security forces, including workers from the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, or ISI.

Army Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said both attackers used cars.

The attacks, on a bus carrying ISI workers and at an army checkpoint, were the first deadly bombings since President Pervez Musharraf declared an emergency Nov. 3.

The blasts – in Rawalpindi, near the heart of the country’s massive military headquarters – could easily be used as a reason to extend emergency rule.

In the deadlier attack, about 7:45 a.m., a car rammed into a bus carrying ISI workers as it turned toward a gate blocking off the secured compound, witnesses said. At least 16 people and the bomber died in the blast, which sent mangled metal flying across the street.

“There were leaping flames coming out of the bus, and no one could get out,” said Wazir Gul Abbasi, who runs a hotel across the street. He said firefighters arrived 15 minutes later and could not open the doors. “I believe no one survived.”

Two senior intelligence officers told The Associated Press that at least 35 people were killed, but Arshad said only 18 had died. An intelligence agent also told AP that the 72-seat bus was overloaded. But Arshad said 50 people were on the bus and that most escaped out the front.

Although Pakistan’s spy agency attempts to maintain a low profile, the fact that the site is an ISI compound was known to most people in the neighborhood. Neighbors knew that the bus carried ISI workers.

The blast scene was blocked off with ropes, hanging carpets and a fire truck. ISI employees fanned out, trying to prevent anyone from talking to journalists. They took the video cameras of two Pakistani reporters.

They pulled Abbasi from two foreign journalists as he talked. They told the journalists’ driver they would lock him up and beat him if he didn’t take the journalists away.

In the second attack, a car tried to ram into a checkpoint near army headquarters. The driver killed himself and injured two security guards.

No one claimed responsibility for the explosions.

Islamic militants have stepped up attacks against security forces since July, when soldiers raided a mosque in Islamabad, angering many in the country. Since then, at least 254 soldiers and paramilitary troops have been killed in attacks.

(c) 2007, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-11-24-07 1902EST

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