* Target was key airforce maintainance site
* Military denies facility linked to nuclear programme
* Stock market still jittery on security worries
* Fears mount for more urban attacks
ISLAMABAD (Oct 23, 2009): A Taliban suicide bomber killed eight people outside a key Pakistani airforce facility on Friday, with officials quick to deny suggestions the target was linked to the country's nuclear program.
The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body at a checkpoint outside the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, some 75 kms (45 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.
There were also police and hospital reports of a blast in the northwest city of Peshawar that wounded seven people, but further details were not immediately available.
The attacks come as the army continues a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban militant strongholds in South Waziristan, near the Afgfhan border.
The offensive has raised fears the insurgents will step up a suicide bombing campaign on urban targets. Over 150 people have been killed in a series of brazen attacks in the past few weeks.
"Eight people were killed and 13 were wounded, three of them seriously," said Shaukat Sultan, head of the main government hospital in Kamra, scene of Friday's airbase attack.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the country's nuclear infrastructure was safe and faced no threat from Taliban militants, and an airforce official was quick to dispel suggestions on Friday that the Kamra facility was linked to the weapons program.
"It's nonsense. It's rubbish," the airforce official told Reuters.
Friday's attack came a day after an army brigadier and his driver were killed in a drive-by shooting in Islamabad, while at least six people, including two suicide bombers, died in twin attacks at an Islamic University in the capital on Tuesday.
Analysts have warned of the possibility of more attacks as the militants come under pressure in Soputh Waziristan, with the Taliban hoping bloodshed and disruption will cause the government and ordinary people to lose their appetite for the offensive.
The offensive is a test of the government's determination to tackle Islamic fundamentalists, and the campaign is being closely followed by the U.S. and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.
It is also affecting the financial markets, with the benchmark KSE index falling around six percent this week.
"There is still concern regarding the security situation," said Asif Qureshi, director at brokers Invisor Securities, who said sentiment would remain tentative until a successful offensive seemed more clear cut.
At lunch (0700 GMT), the index was up 0.28 percent on the day to 9,179.96 points.
Remote and rugged South Waziristan, with its rocky mountains and patchy forests cut through by dry creeks and ravines, is a global hub for militants who flit between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
About 28,000 soldiers are battling an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban, including about 1,000 tough Uzbek fighters and some Arab al Qaeda members.
The army said 24 militants and two soldiers were killed in the fighting on Thursday.
Foreign journalists are not allowed anywhere near the battle zone and it is dangerous even for Pakistani reporters to visit. Independent confirmation of casualty figures has not been possible.
More than 100,000 civilians have fled the area, with about 32,000 leaving since Oct. 13, the United Nations said.
The army has launched brief offensives in South Waziristan before, the first in 2004 when it suffered heavy casualties before striking a peace pact. -- Reuters
--- The Sun Daily