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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A suspected Taliban suicide bomber killed six people outside Pakistan's main airforce maintenance facility on Friday as troops pressed ahead with an offensive against insurgents in the northwest, officials said.
The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body when security personnel stopped him at a checkpoint outside the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex in Kamra, some 75 kms (45 miles) northwest of the capital, Islamabad.
"Two of our security men and four civilians were killed," an official of the Pakistan Air Force told Reuters. Four people were wounded, he added.
The 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.
Taliban militants have stepped up attacks on urban targets as the Pakistani military continues a major offensive against the insurgents in their strongholds in South Waziristan, near the Afghan border.
SQUEEZED OUT
Analysts have warned of the possibility of more attacks as the militants are squeezed out of their strongholds, 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.
The benchmark KSE index fell 3 percent on Thursday's false rumours of an incident at a courthouse but recovered to close down 1 percent.
"Investors are very jittery at this point due to the law and order situation," said Sajid Bhanji, a dealer at brokers' Arif Habib Ltd.
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 October 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.
(For a graphic showing the whereabouts of fighting, see http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/RNGS/OCT/PAK5.jpg)
(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Writing by David Fox; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Reuters