70 killed in Pakistan as Taliban claim bin Laden revenge
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
SHABQADAR, Pakistan, May 13: Pakistan´s Taliban Friday claimed their first major strike in revenge for Osama bin Laden´s death as at least 70 people were killed in a suicide and bomb attack on paramilitary police.
"This was the first revenge for Osama´s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
It was the deadliest attack in the nuclear-armed Muslim country this year and came with Pakistan´s military and civilian leadership plunged into crisis over the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief by US commandos on May 2.
The explosions detonated in northwest Pakistan as newly trained paramilitary cadets were getting into buses and coaches for a 10-day leave after a training course, and they were wearing civilian clothes, police said.
The attacks took place in Shabqadar town, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Peshawar, the main city in the northwest region where militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have repeatedly attacked government forces.
Ahmad Ali, a wounded paramilitary policeman, recalled the horror when the explosions turned a festive Friday morning into a bloodbath.
"I was sitting in a van waiting for my colleagues. We were in plain clothes and we were happy we were going to see our families," he told AFP by telephone from Shabqadar hospital.
"I heard someone shouting ´Allah Akbar´ and then I heard a huge blast. I was hit by something in my back shoulder. In the meantime I heard another blast and I jumped out of the van. I felt that I was injured and bleeding."
Police officials confirmed that at least 70 people had been killed, making it the deadliest attack in Pakistan since November 5 when a suicide bomber killed 68 people at a mosque in the northwest area of Darra Adam Khel.
"The suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and blew himself up among Frontier Constabulary personnel. The bomb disposal squad told me the second bomb was planted," said the police chief of the Charsadda district, Nisar Khan Marwat.
He said that around 20 shops and 12 vehicles were destroyed in the intensity of the blasts and put the death toll at 70.
"Sixty-five of them are from the paramilitary police. Five dead bodies of civilians were taken to Shabqadar hospital," he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban last week threatened to attack security forces to avenge bin Laden´s killing in a US helicopter raid north of the capital Islamabad.
There has been little public protest in support of bin Laden in a country where more people have been killed in bomb attacks in the past four years than the nearly 3,000 who died in Al-Qaeda´s September 11, 2001 attacks.
But under growing domestic pressure to punish Washington for the bin Laden raid, Pakistan´s civilian government said Thursday it would review counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States.
It was unclear if the move was intended as a threat, but it showed the extent of the task facing US Senator John Kerry as he prepares to embark on a mission to shore up badly strained ties with Washington´s fractious ally.
Washington did not inform Islamabad that an elite team of Navy SEALs had helicoptered into the garrison town of Abbottabad until the commandos had cleared Pakistani airspace, carrying with them bin Laden´s corpse.
The covert night-time raid has plunged Pakistani politics into turmoil with both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani are facing calls to resign.
Pakistanis have been outraged at the perceived impunity of the US raid, while asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was living close to a major forces academy, or, worse, conspired to protect him.
Gilani chaired a defence committee meeting that decided "to institute an inter-agency process to clearly define the parameters of our cooperation with the US in counter-terrorism", an official statement said.
Washington is pressing Islamabad to investigate how bin Laden and several wives and children managed to live for five years under the noses of its military in Abbottabad, just 40 miles (65 kilometres) north of the capital.