PESHAWAR: A suicide bomber flung himself at a military convoy passing through a busy market in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing 41 people, the military said.
The bomber targeted a paramilitary convoy as it passed through a security check post in a bazaar in Alpuri town in Shangla, a district neighbouring Swat valley and the target of a recent anti-Taliban military offensive.
Pakistan’s army claims to have cleared Swat and nearby districts of the Taliban threat in an offensive launched in April, and are now poised to start a similar ground and air assault in the nearby northwest tribal belt.
‘Forty-one people were killed and 45 were injured in the suicide blast,’ said Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the North West Frontier Province.
‘Twelve of the injured are in serious condition.’
Major Mushtaq Khan, a spokesman at the military-run Swat Media Centre, said that six of the dead were soldiers, while the rest were civilians.
‘The attacker was wearing a suicide vest packed with high-quality explosive material,’ he told AFP.
‘Our assessment is that the bomber was on foot. When he blew himself up, some of the trucks carrying ammunition were also hit and the ammunition exploded, causes more human losses.’
Khan said that 12 shops and seven vehicles were destroyed in the blast, while some buses packed with civilians were also caught in the explosions.
‘The target was a security convoy near an army check post. This is a crowded bazaar and a lot of people were present at that time,’ Shangla Member of Parliament Fazlullah Khan said on a local television station.
Swat valley was the target of the punishing military offensive launched in April this year after Taliban militants advanced towards Islamabad.
Fighting also spilled into Shangla, where Taliban militants had infiltrated in a bid to impose a harsh brand of Islamic law across the northwest.
Alpuri was known to be a stronghold of fugitive Swat Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah, who remains at large, raising concerns that the Swat Taliban are regrouping in the northwest Pakistan’s rugged mountains.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Pakistani Taliban have vowed to avenge both the Swat military offensive and the death of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US missile strike in August.
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of attacks blamed on religious extremists in the past week, with at least 52 civilians killed on Friday when a suicide bomber rammed his car into a market in the northwest capital Peshawar.
Then on Saturday, suspected Taliban-linked gunmen staged an audacious day-time raid on the army headquarters near Islamabad, shooting their way into a building and barricading themselves inside with 42 hostages.
In total, eight 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.
The military are now readying for a full-on ground assault into the Taliban strongholds in the northwest tribal belt neighbouring Afghanistan.