PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Four rockets crashed into a city in northwest Pakistan yesterday, killing 10 people, wounding 40, and stoking the confrontation between Islamic militants and the government.
Rockets hit two houses, a mosque, and a shop at about 2 a.m. in Bannu in North West Frontier Province, said Khwaja Mohammed, a city police official. He described the attack as "terrorist activity," but said it was too early to say more about the culprits.
Taliban militants have been expanding their influence into northwestern Pakistan from strongholds in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. The president, General Pervez Musharraf, is under growing pressure from his key international backer, the United States, to crack down.
Since a bloody army siege of Islamabad's radical Red Mosque earlier this month, Pakistan has sent thousands of troops to the northwest, triggering a fierce militant response. More than 300 people have died in violence across the country this month.
Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban veteran of Guantanamo Bay who was one of Pakistan's most-wanted rebel leaders, killed himself with a hand grenade Tuesday when cornered by security forces in Zhob, south of his home in South Waziristan.
Hundreds of Mehsud's militant supporters fired assault rifles, rocket launchers, and machine guns into the air after his body arrived yesterday for burial in his ancestral village of Nano, in South Waziristan, according to an intelligence official.
About 5,000 people attended Mehsud's funeral, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.
Militants have killed dozens of soldiers with suicide attacks in neighboring North Waziristan, the tribal region closest to Bannu.
Overnight, militants fired a rocket at a fort manned by paramilitary troops and blew up a government utility office in Miran Shan, the region's main town, forcing authorities to shutter all government offices and banks for fear of casualties, local security officials said.
After militants pulled out of a controversial peace deal with the government on July 15, a local tribal police force, intimidated by Taliban threats, abandoned its post, contributing to the lack of security. The regular army's presence is confined to checkpoints on roads between Miran Shah and other towns.
Residents say almost half of the shops in Miran Shah have closed, and about 500 families have fled. In a sign of declining government control, five masked men stole a pickup truck from a government office during daylight hours.
"Nobody could say anything to them," said grocery store owner Mohammed Salim. "We closed our shops out of fear. . . . There is absolutely no security in the bazaar."
In the nearby town of Mir Ali, a bomb damaged a government-run school, local security officials said. No one was inside at the time.
Despite US criticism that the peace deal allowed Al Qaeda to regroup, Pakistan has been trying to resurrect the accord in recent days.
Over the weekend, US officials said Washington might consider military intervention to stem Al Qaeda's growing ability to use its hideout in Pakistan to launch terrorist attacks.