ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Suicide bombers attacked an Islamic university popular with foreigners in Pakistan's capital Tuesday, killing at least four students in apparent retaliation for an escalating army offensive on a Taliban and al-Qaida stronghold near the Afghan border.
An Associated Press reporter close to the battle zone in South Waziristan met a group of Taliban fighters who challenged army claims of progress in the four-day assault, saying they had pushed soldiers back from the strategic town of Kotkai.
Intelligence officials also said the army had been repelled from the town after being close to taking it. They asked that their names not be used for operational reasons.
The army has deployed about 30,000 troops to South Waziristan against about 12,000 Taliban militants.
The suicide bombers hit a faculty building and a women's cafeteria at the International Islamic University, where nearly half the students are women and hundreds are foreigners.
The blasts killed two male and two female students and wounded at least 18 others. The two attackers were also killed, officials said.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack on what some people thought was a surprising target for Islamist extremists, but the president of the university and authorities said they believed it was the work of militants in the northwest.
Authorities have been warning that militants would try to bring the war to Pakistan's cities since the army began its offensive. Many schools and universities were closed after receiving word from authorities Monday that they could be targeted.
The government ordered all educational institutions closed for a week in three of the country's four provinces.
The university is attended by 18,000 students. It has close to 2,000 international students, many from China. While it is a seat of Islamic learning, most students take secular courses such as management science or computer studies.
"Those who call themselves champions of Islam, they have today proved by attacking the Islamic university that they are neither friends of Islam nor Pakistan" said Interior Minister Rehman Malik, whose motorcade was stoned by angry students as he left the campus on the outskirts of Islamabad.