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Former Pakistani Commando General Shot Dead

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Gunmen riding a motorbike have shot dead a former head of Pakistani military commandos and his driver on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad, police said.

Security has deteriorated alarmingly in Pakistan over recent months with the military attacking Al-Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in the northwest while the militants have responded with attacks on security forces.

Major-General Amir Faisal Alvi, who commanded the elite Special Services Group (SSG) and retired more than two years ago, was heading towards Islamabad when his car was sprayed with bullets.

Islamist militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have targeted top army leaders and security officials, but it was unclear whether the motive for Alvi's killing was militant or criminal, senior police officer Saqib Sultan said.

"It's too early to make any conclusion," Sultan said.

Militant violence began to escalate last July when army commandos stormed a radical mosque complex in Islamabad, stoking Islamist hatred towards the army, then headed by former President Pervez Musharraf, himself an ex-SSG head.

A wave of suicide bombing has since killed hundreds of people and militants have targeted security forces.

Violence subsided when a coalition government that came to power after an election last February opened talks with militants but it picked up again after their top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, suspended the talks in June.

Two suicide bombers killed at least 59 people in an attack on the country's main defense-industry complex in August. Later, a Taliban spokesman claiming responsibility described the facility as a "killer factory," which he said produced arms used against militants.

A suicide bomber killed at least 55 people in an attack on Islamabad's Marriott Hotel in September.

Rising violence has raised fears that nuclear-armed Pakistan, whose support is seen as vital to the West's efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda globally, could slide into chaos unless the eight-month-old civilian government can throttle the militant threat.