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41 Pakistanis Killed in Shangla Taliban Suicide Bombing Against Army Convoy

October 12, 2009

41 dead as suicide blast hits northwest Pakistan

by Lehaz Ali Mon Oct 12, 2009, 10:12 am ET

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP)

A devastating suicide bomb hit northwest Pakistan killing 41 people Monday, as the military geared up for an assault on Taliban rebels blamed for increasingly bloody and brazen attacks.

The bomber, reported to be aged about 13, flung himself at a military convoy passing through a busy market in Shangla, a northwest district near Swat where the army claimed to have flushed out Taliban rebels after a fierce offensive.

But Taliban groups appear far from quashed, with an audacious raid on army headquarters over the weekend leaving 23 people dead and underscoring the vulnerability of the nuclear-armed nation. Eight days of bloodshed.

At least 116 people have been killed in a series of devastating blasts and attacks in Pakistan in the last four days.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement, holed up in the lawless northwest tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the day-long army headquarters hostage drama near Islamabad.

"As long as Pakistan continues its operation against the Taliban, we will also keep continuing such attacks," Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told AFP.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Shangla blast, but the suicide bombing bore all the hallmarks of a TTP strike, and hit in a one-time stronghold of fugitive Swat Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

"Forty-one people were killed and 45 were injured in the suicide blast," said Mian Iftekhar Hussain, provincial information minister.

A spokesman from the Swat Media Centre said that six soldiers were among those killed when the young suicide bomber on foot stuck a paramilitary convoy passing through a security checkpost in a crowded bazaar in Alpuri town.

"When he blew himself up, some of the trucks carrying ammunition were also hit and the ammunition exploded, causes more human losses," the spokesman said.

"He was 13 or 14 years old, according to our investigations so far."

The military launched their offensive in and around Swat valley in April after Taliban insurgents bent on imposing a harsh brand of Islamic law advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad.

The army says it is now ready for a full-scale offensive on the Pakistani Taliban seat of power in South Waziristan, a rugged mountainous region bordering Afghanistan which lies outside direct government control.

"It is now a matter of military judgment, what is the appropriate timing (and) in the best national interests," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told reporters.

On Sunday and Monday, air raids designed to soften up the rebels hit the northwest tribal belt, after Taliban gunmen staged an audacious daytime attack on the military command centre on Saturday.

In total, nine militants, 11 soldiers and three hostages were killed in the crisis that unfolded at the heart of the military establishment in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, which ended with a commando raid Sunday.

"Their target was to take hostage senior officers of the GHQ (General Headquarters) and make demands," Abbas told a press conference.

"The main demand was the release of terrorists including high-profile ones. It included over 100 names."

Taliban spokesman Tariq on Monday claimed that attack, telling an AFP reporter by telephone: "It was carried out by our Punjab branch... We have the capability to strike at any place in Pakistan."

The TTP have also claimed a suicide bomb that killed five UN workers at their offices in Islamabad last Monday, but did not comment on a suicide car bomb Friday that killed 52 people in the northwestern capital Peshawar.

Analysts say that an operation in Waziristan will be a tougher task then flushing militants out of Swat, with the Taliban entrenched in a hostile terrain and able to slip easily across the Afghan frontier.

Officials said that war planes bombed known militant bases late Sunday in South Waziristan's Makeen and Ladha towns and in Bajaur district Monday, with a total of 31 militants killed in the strikes.

31 killed as Pakistan jets bomb Taliban: official

Mon Oct 12, 2009, 2:29 am ET

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP)

Pakistani fighter jets have bombed Taliban strongholds in the lawless northwest tribal belt, killing at least 31 suspected militants, government and security officials said Monday.

The air strikes came after a Taliban hostage siege at army headquarters near Islamabad left 19 people dead at the weekend, and as the military prepares for an offensive in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

"Jet fighters bombed various Taliban hideouts in Mamoond district of Bajaur," local government official Manasib Khan told AFP, referring to a district north of the provincial capital Peshawar.

"The latest reports said that at least 12 militants were killed and nine were wounded in the air strikes," he said, adding that Taliban trenches on mountaintops and underground hideouts were targeted by the war planes.

"Ground troops are also using artillery to pound militant positions in Mamoond area," Khan said.

An intelligence official at Khar, the main town in Bajaur, confirmed the air strikes and death toll.

Fighter jets also bombed Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan, the semi-autonomous tribal district believed to be the target of an upcoming operation against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan network linked with Al-Qaeda.

"Pakistan fighter jets bombed hideouts at Makeen and Ladha towns," Syed Shahab Ali Shah, the area's top administrative official, told AFP.

A security official in South Waziristan's main town Wana said: "We have reports that at least 19 militants were killed in both Makeen and Ladha."

The army claimed success in an offensive against the Taliban earlier this year in the one-time tourist paradise of Swat valley, but a wave of attacks in the past week show the Islamist threat is far from quashed.

Military and government officials have been saying for months that a full operation is imminent in the tribal belt, but have given no timescale.

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