11 dead in gun and suicide bomb attack on Islamabad court

Pakistani policemen arrive to cordon off a local court building after a gun and suicide attack in Islamabad on March 3, 2014.

Eleven people including a judge were killed Monday in a gun and suicide bomb attack on a court in Islamabad, a rare strike at the heart of the heavily-guarded Pakistani capital.

Pakistan has been in the grip of a bloody homegrown Taliban insurgency since 2007 but attacks within the capital have been very rare in recent years.

The Pakistani Taliban denied any connection to the attack, which came two days after the militants announced a month-long ceasefire aimed at restarting stalled peace talks with the government.

Islamabad police chief Sikandar Hayat said the attack began around 9:00 a.m. (0400 GMT) with gunfire followed by two suicide blasts, which killed 11 people and wounded 24.

It was the first suicide attack in Islamabad since June 2011 and the deadliest in the city since a huge truck bomb at the Marriott Hotel killed 60 people in September 2008.

Blood, human remains and spent bullet casings littered the court complex, located in a prosperous residential sector of the city popular with foreigners, an AFP reporter said.

The death toll was confirmed by other police officials and the spokeswoman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Ayesha Isani.

Isani said 20 wounded had been brought to the institute, half of them in a critical condition.

The dead included a sessions judge, according to police.

Roads around the court were sealed off as police and paramilitary forces carried out a search.

Lawyer Murad Ali Shah described the dramatic moment the carnage began.

"At 9:00 a.m. armed men surrounded the court compound. They entered the chamber and started firing," he told AFP, adding that he had helped recover several bodies.

"The attackers were armed with Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. They were wearing shalwar kameez and had long beards and long hair."

On Sunday the Pakistani government announced it was halting air strikes against suspected Taliban hideouts in the country's restive tribal areas along the Afghan border in response to the militants' ceasefire.

"We strictly adhere to ceasefire agreement with the government," Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP Monday.

"Our colleagues in the movement also cannot violate this agreement."

The government began peace talks with the TTP last month but the dialogue broke down after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.

The military responded with a series of air strikes in the tribal areas that killed more than 100 insurgents, according to security officials.

The Taliban's ceasefire announcement on Saturday was met with scepticism by analysts, who said it may have been a tactic to allow them to regroup after they had suffered heavy losses in air strikes.

The government has struck peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban several times in the past but they have failed to yield lasting results.

The umbrella militant group emerged in response to a raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad, but Islamist violence in the country began to surge in 2004 following the army's deployment in the tribal areas