- Pakistan - suicide bombing - Taliban
AFP - Suicide bombers blew up vehicles in two attacks Saturday 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 assaults on government targets to avenge the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone strike.
"It was a car suicide blast," Shafqat Malik, bomb disposal squad chief, told reporters at the scene of the Peshawar attack.
"The suicide bomber sitting inside the car hurled a grenade and then he detonated himself and the car," Malik said, describing the target as a branch of the Askari bank, which is run by an army welfare trust.
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, with pieces of flesh and pools of blood littering the site, he said. The explosion also damaged at least 21 vehicles, which were removed from the site by several car lifters.
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.
"At least 10 people were killed and 50 others wounded in the attack," provincial health minister Zahir Ali Shah told reporters.
Doctor Mohsin Hayat at the main government-run hospital in Peshawar also confirmed the number of casualties.
"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 2,100 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."
In Bannu, district police officer Iqbal Marwat said five people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated a truck in the town's Mandan area.
At the district hospital, Doctor Ikram Alam said five bodies were pulled out of the rubble of the collapsed police station and nearby buildings, including two policemen and three civilians. "More than 50 are injured," he said.
"We claim responsibility for the Bannu bombing. We had been silent but the government took our silence as a sign of a weakness after Baitullah's martyrdom," senior TTP leader Qari Hussain told AFP by telephone.
"We are not weak and in future we will target government installations and officials with greater severity," added Hussain, spokesman of new TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud and prominent trainer of suicide bombers.
Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack on August 5 in South Waziristan tribal district, also known as the hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
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.
On Saturday, seven militants were killed, including a local commander, in clashes northeast of Swat's main town Mingora in a Taliban stronghold and former training centre, the military said.