Two suicide attacks in NW Pakistan kill 19
AFP - Friday, November 7
KHAR, Pakistan (AFP) - - Two suicide bombers struck in northwest Pakistan Thursday, killing 19 in total, as airstrikes pounded extremist targets in a region known as a Taliban safe haven, police and officials said.
Seventeen people were killed and 45 injured when a suicide attacker blew himself up as a government-backed tribal force or "lashkar" met in Batmalai, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the main town of Bajaur district, Khar.
Later, a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car into a camp of paramilitary forces in Mingora, the main town in the nearby restive Swat valley, killing two and injuring 11.
Pakistani military airstrikes elsewhere in Bajaur killed 17, including militants, while 15 rebels died in similar strikes a day earlier, local officials revealed.
The first suicide attack also left 30 people seriously injured, hospital and security sources told AFP.
Local police official Fazal-i-Rabi added: "Two to three hundred members of the lashkar were finalising their strategy after demolishing houses of militants when the blast occurred."
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari denounced the blast as a "heinous crime", pledging to track down those behind it and eradicate extremism from the country "at all costs", state media reported.
The second suicide attack targeted a gathering of several hundred soldiers from the Frontier Corps, the region's police chief, Tanwirul Haq Sipra, said.
"It was a huge blast, the intensity seems to be very high, people heard it some three kilometres away," he told AFP.
The attack was followed by an "assault" by Islamist militants, making it difficult to remove casualties, he added.
Swat has been rocked by a violent campaign for Islamic laws by supporters of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah.
Once a popular tourist resort, the area has been turned into a battleground since Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan's Taliban movement, launched a violent campaign for Sharia law.
Bajaur, a semi-autonomous area bordering Afghanistan, has been the scene of fierce fighting since Pakistani forces began an operation against Al-Qaeda- and Taliban-linked extremists in August.
The military said last month that some 1,500 rebels and 73 soldiers had died since the fighting began while hundreds more militants were captured.
The airstrikes in Bajaur Wednesday and Thursday targeted suspected militant hideouts in several towns, but it was not clear how many of the dead were militants, local officials said.
Pakistan's tribal belt became a safe haven for hundreds of Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led toppling of the hardline Taliban regime in late 2001 and have since set up training camps here.
Many moved to Bajaur recently after being driven out of other Pakistani tribal regions, especially North and South Waziristan, hundreds of kilometres to the south.
While Pakistani forces have concentrated on Bajaur, most recent suspected US missile attacks on Pakistan have targeted Waziristan.
Pakistan has been accused by the United States and Afghanistan of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to attack US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
But Islamabad says its operation in Bajaur is proof that it is committed to crushing insurgents.
Separately Thursday, suspected militants fired rockets at Peshawar airport, also in northwest Pakistan, and blew up power lines.
Taliban commander Maulana Rafiuddin was also released from custody with three of his men in exchange for three army soldiers and seven paramilitary troops, officials in restive Hangu district said.
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