ISLAMABAD — Three people were killed on Monday and up to eight others wounded when about 20 NATO oil tankers were attacked and set ablaze near the Pakistani capital, in the second mass torching in days.Television pictures showed a towering inferno of fire coming from the trucks that were filling up just outside Islamabad en route to Afghanistan early in the morning when gunmen attacked the convoy with molotov cocktails.
It follows a similar incident on Friday in the south, when heavily armed gunmen set ablaze more than two dozen trucks and tankers carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"Three people have died, eight are injured. They have all received bullet injuries and are mostly drivers and their helpers," police emergency official Mohammad Ahad told AFP by telephone.
Ahad said the strike took place as the convoy of "dozens" of tankers were bound for Afghanistan to supply the 152,000-strong foreign forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency.
The unknown number of gunmen fled the scene, Ahad said, as Geo television showed fire brigades spraying the burning tankers that had set nearby trees and bushes alight.
Mohammad Ilyas, the doctor in charge of emergency care in Rawalpindi civil hospital, said: "We received three dead bodies and seven wounded.
"They all had bullet wounds. Two of them were in serious condition but they are improving and we hope they will be in a stable condition soon."
Islamabad police chief Omar Hayat confirmed the death toll and said the tankers were attacked as they were parked up at the Attock oil refinery outside the capital for refuelling.
"As they were waiting to get the oil, some people opened fire and threw molotov cocktails at the tankers. The security guards retaliated and the gunfire continued for some time," said Hayat.
The assault came after Pakistan on Sunday said a main land route in the northwest used by NATO to deliver supplies to troops in Afghanistan will reopen "relatively quickly".
Pakistan blocked the crossing on Thursday after a NATO helicopter strike that Islamabad says killed three of its soldiers. The alliance said it shot back in self-defence.
After a flurry of phone calls and pressure from ally Washington, Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, told CNN's "State of the Union" programme that the transit route would reopen in "less than a week".
"I think the supply line will be open relatively quickly," he said.He added: "It's not a blockade. It's just a temporary suspension of the convoys moving through."I do not expect this blockade to continue for too long."The Khyber pass at Torkham is on one of the key NATO supply routes through Pakistan into war-torn Afghanistan.
The cross-border raid was the fourth in a week by NATO helicopters pursuing militants into Pakistan, which condemned the action as a serious breach of its sovereignty, threatening to destabilise ties with backer Washington.
A two-member Pakistan team led by Brigadier Usman Khattak, deputy inspector general of the Frontier Corps, travelled to Afghanistan on Saturday to join an investigation into the incident by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US officials, an official told AFP.
Queues of more than 200 trucks and oil tankers have formed at the border in the northwest tribal area of Kurram as they wait to deliver supplies.The envoy Haqqani said that he had received a phone call from General David Petraeus, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
"He understands Pakistan has not stopped it as a political retaliation but only to make convoys more secure," Haqqani said, adding the issue was unlikely to cause any permanent damage to future US-Pakistan cooperation."Pakistan is an American ally. America depends on Pakistan," Haqqani said.
"We can and do not do everything the Americans think we should do because sometimes we don't have the capacity, sometimes we don't have the means," he said.
Nevertheless, Haqqani continued: "We work those things out and that is exactly what we are doing right now."Minus all of the political noise, the fact remains that we are working together."
Washington has classified Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border as a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda, a hub of militants fighting in Afghanistan and the most dangerous place on Earth. AFP