A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a police office in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, killing at least 15 people, wounding dozens and leaving victims trapped in the wreckage.

Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the vicinity of five-star hotels, government offices and the heavily fortified US consulate.

“There are people buried in rubble and we simply don’t know if they are going to live or die,” said Imran Ahmed, of Edhi, a privately owned ambulance service, as rescuers struggled to pull victims from the partially collapsed building.

The bomber struck minutes after gunmen stormed the front gate of the police compound, which houses a branch of Karachi’s Criminal Investigation Division. The blast left a large crater and shook buildings across the teeming port city. Television footage showed bloodied victims leaving the scene.

“My house is about six miles away and we could feel the blast there as well. It must have been a very powerful attack,” said Jameel Yusuf, a businessman.

The attack underscored the Taliban’s ability to hit at security forces in spite of a major offensive launched by the military to regain control of insurgent strongholds in the rugged tribal belt near the Afghan border.

Pakistan’s army has pointed to a relative lull in insurgent attacks on police and army bases in the past year as evidence its campaign is putting pressure on the Taliban.

Instead, Pakistani cities such as Karachi and Lahore have witnessed a series of bombings at shrines and mosques belonging to minority sects that appear to have been motivated primarily by sectarian hatred.

The blast in Karachi will revive memories of a spate of high-profile attacks insurgents staged late last year on offices used by the army, police and intelligence services in major cities. In the most spectacular of these raids, a team of gunmen stormed the headquarters of Pakistan’s army in the city of Rawalpindi.

The Taliban’s continued ability to organise sophisticated attacks far from its traditional base near the Afghan border will fuel concerns that Pakistan is struggling to counter the militant threat in spite of large infusions of US military aid and a heavy troop deployment in the north-west.

Pakistan has often struggled to prevent insurgents returning to areas it has seized in the past year, or to capture their leaders.

The US sees the campaign as critical to countering the threat militants pose to Pakistan’s fragile state and supporting the Nato mission in Afghanistan. However, the army has resisted pressure from Washington to launch a major offensive in North Waziristan, regarded as a major hub for Afghan militants and al Qaeda fighters.

The blast underscored the fragile security situation in Karachi, which is reeling from a series of bouts of violence conducted by supporters of rival political parties in the city. Hundreds of people have been killed.

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