Militants in Pakistan have set fire to at least 29 fuel tankers in the latest in a series of assaults on supplies en route to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The tankers were set ablaze in a predawn raid said to have been carried out by 15 to 20 gunmen as the vehicles sat parked outside a roadside restaurant in the remote southwestern town of Sibi, 180 kilometers southeast of Quetta, capital of Baluchistan Province.
Pakistani television footage showed a row of tankers engulfed in flame and thick plumes of smoke billowing skyward.
The convoy had stopped for the night on its way to the border town of Chaman when it was attacked at around 3 a.m. local time by militants armed with rocket launchers and automatic weapons, according to Abdul Mateen, deputy commissioner of the Kachi district.
Witnesses said the gunmen were saying "God is great" and speaking the local Balchi and Brahvi languages, he added.
Mateen also said local law enforcement had blocked the roads "and we are trying to catch them. They were traveling in 15 to 20 vehicles, according to my initial information."Massive Fire
Abdul Qadir, an employee at the roadside hotel told AFP that he awoke to the sound of weapons being fired.
"When I came out, I saw a group of armed men warning other employees and vehicle drivers to stay away," he said. "The gunfire was so intense that it triggered a massive fire, engulfing all tankers that were parked in front of the hotel."
Officials say two police officers were wounded in the attack.
Mateen said the local rescue services lacked sufficient forces to tackle the resulting inferno.
"Definitely, it is a jungle and we don't have enough resources," he said. "We have only one fire brigade that brings water from 18 kilometers away." Escalation In Pakistan
It was the sixth such attack in just over a week as militants have stepped up their attacks on NATO supply routes into Afghanistan.
Taliban forces have staged a series of raids in recent days in response to a new wave of U.S. drone strikes aimed at rebels in northwest Pakistan's rugged border region.
The attack is the sixth in the last week.
Pakistani authorities have reported 26 drone attacks since September 3, which have killed more than 140 people in the lawless region that the United States has described as Al-Qaeda's global headquarters.
The strikes have been linked to a U.S. plan to disrupt an alleged plot by extremists to launch attacks in Europe similar to those in Mumbai, India, in 2008.
There was no claim of responsibility for the latest tanker attack, which came three days after militants torched more than 40 NATO-bound oil tankers and containers in the northwestern city of Nowshera and in Quetta.
The Pakistani Taliban has taken responsibility for that and other previous attacks has and called on the government in Islamabad to bar NATO and the United States from using its soil to transport supplies to Afghanistan.
The attacks have coincided with Pakistan's closure of the main NATO supply route into Afghanistan in the country's northwest after a raid on September 30 that killed at least two Pakistani soldiers who had been mistaken for armed militants.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has issued an apology on behalf of the American people for the raid, which she said was a "terrible accident."written by Robert Tait, with agency reports. RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal contributed to this report