Saturday, September 26, 2009

15 dead in Pakistan suicide blasts

By Lehaz Ali in Peshawar

SUICIDE bombers blew up vehicles in two attacks that killed 15 people in northwest Pakistan, in an escalating revenge campaign against security forces, officials said.

The second attack in Pakistan's northwest city of Peshawar ripped through a crowded area near banks, shops and a wedding hall on a road leading to the army cantonment, hours after a similar attack outside a police station in Bannu.

Ten people were killed in Peshawar and another five on the outskirts of Bannu in a district close to the rugged tribal region of North Waziristan where Washington says Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are plotting attacks on the West.

Pakistan's umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) group claimed responsibility for the Bannu attack and threatened to unleash bigger attacks on government targets to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack.

"It was a car suicide blast and according to our calculations 100 kilograms of explosives were used," Shafqat Malik, bomb disposal squad chief, said of the Peshawar attack.

"The suicide bomber sitting inside the car hurled a grenade and then he detonated himself and the car," he said, describing the target as a branch of the Askari bank, which is run by an army welfare trust.

TV footage showed volunteers hauling the wounded on to the back of trucks as police tried to evacuate the area, with ambulances inching past onlookers as a young girl limped away with blood spattered on her green dress.

The explosion smashed the windows of nearby commercial buildings, car showrooms and offices of commercial banks, an AFP reporter said. There was panic with people running everywhere. Pieces of flesh were blown all over the place, among pools of blood, he said.

The explosion also damaged at least 21 vehicles, which were removed from the site by several car lifters.

Injured people were shouting for help as ambulances with flashing lights and sirens rushed in and out to take away the wounded.

Police said they were investigating how the bomber managed to penetrate a routine security cordon and branded the attack revenge for military operations against Islamist militants in the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border.

"This bomb blast is a reaction to ongoing operations in tribal areas," Liaqat Ali Khan, Peshawar city police chief, told AFP.

Pakistan has been hit by a wave of bombings that have killed more than 2100 people over the last two years in the nuclear-armed country which the United States has put on the frontline of the war against Al-Qaeda.

"These are satanic forces and we have to fight them," said North West Frontier Province information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

"The international community will have to work together to eliminate their network."

US spy planes carry out regular missile attacks on militant targets in Pakistan's tribal badlands, which lie outside direct control and on the border with Afghanistan, where Western troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency.

The government in Islamabad has vowed to wipe out Islamist militants from Pakistan's northwest. Last April, troops launched a blistering assault in a bid to dislodge Pakistani Taliban from the northwest Swat valley.

The government ordered the operation under US pressure after foot soldiers loyal to radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah marched to within 100 kilometres of Islamabad following a two-year insurgency to enforce sharia law.

Source: The Australian

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