Monday, April 20, 2009

Bomber Hits Checkpoint in Pakistan, Killing 20

Published: April 18, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Eighteen members of the security forces and two civilians were killed in a suicide bombing on Saturday at a joint military and police checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan, security officials said.

The police in Doaba, in the Hangu district of North-West Frontier Province, said that three of their men had been wounded in the attack, which hit around the time when the guard was changing at the checkpoint.. Eight soldiers were also wounded and were later shifted to a military hospital for treatment.

The police blamed the Pakistani Taliban for the bombing, though there was no immediate claim of responsibility by the militants.

The military had carried out a major cleanup operation in Doaba in August to flush out Taliban militants who wereinfiltrating from the nearby Kurram and Orakzai tribal regions.

Army helicopter gunships have been attacking suspected militant hide-outs in Orakzai in the last couple of weeks. That region is under the sway of Hakimullah Mehsud, a senior Taliban commander. He warned this month that the Pakistani Taliban would carry out two bombings a week in what he called revenge for missile strikes by American drone aircraft.

One of those missile strikes, on April 2, was apparently aimed at Mr. Mehsud. The strike killed 10 militants at one of his training camps in the Orakzai region, officials said. Mr. Mehsud was reported to have escaped..

He claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing attack two weeks ago against a checkpoint in an upper-class neighborhood of Islamabad. Eight paramilitary soldiers were killed in that attack.

The checkpoint attacked on Saturday sits on the Hangu-Parachinar road, which has been closed to general traffic for over a year because of a Taliban roadblock intended to stop food and fuel supplies to the mainly Shiite population in Kurram's regional headquarters of Parachinar.

The Hangu district has been a frequent flashpoint for violence between Sunnis and Shiites. Forty-eight people were killed during sectarian attacks during the Shiite holy month of Muharram last year.

Also on Saturday, Asfandyar Wali, the leader of the Awami National Party, which negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban in the district of Swat, defended the party's decision to agree to the introduction of Islamic law in that region. The party is a member of the coalition government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and has been at the forefront of the decisions to concede authority to the Taliban in Swat.

"We preferred diplomacy over war," Mr. Wali told a news conference in Karachi. "I don't say this is the best solution," he said of the setting up of Islamic courts in Swat. 





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