Blast kills 16 cadets in Pakistan
NATO trucks hit in separate attack
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Bombings targeted a Pakistani police station and set a NATO fuel convoy ablaze yesterday, killing 16 cadets in the northwest’s Swat Valley and threatening the supply line to international forces in Afghanistan in a separate attack near the border.
The two blasts hours apart and hundreds of miles from each other occurred as Pakistani officials said the Taliban were ramping up strikes to avenge recent setbacks, including the loss of territory to the military and the death of their top leader in a CIA missile strike near the Afghan border.
Pakistan’s military has in recent months intensified its fight against the Al Qaeda-linked extremists, who threaten stability in the nuclear-armed nation and are suspected of helping plot attacks against US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
At least 16 cadets died yesterday after a suicide bomber sneaked into the courtyard where they were training in Swat’s main town of Mingora and detonated his explosives, said Atifur Rehman, a local government official. It was the deadliest attack since an army offensive ended Taliban rule there.
Investigators later sifted through the blackened wreckage in the courtyard, which was littered with body parts, shredded uniforms, and police berets.
Authorities were looking into reports the attacker may have donned a uniform and slipped into the station posing as one of the dozens of recruits, Deputy Inspector General Idrees Khan of the district police said.
“We are investigating whether the bomber climbed over the wall of the police station or whether he was already present among the police cadets,’’ Khan said. He blamed the attack on a decision to relax a daily curfew in the area for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and police quickly blocked off roads and ordered residents back indoors.
The army’s offensive to take back the area was its largest in years after periodic peace deals with the militants. The Taliban’s takeover of parts of Swat, a former tourist enclave, about two years ago became a symbol of their expansion in the mostly Muslim country of 175 million.
The Pakistan Army says it is restoring order to the valley and surrounding areas, but yesterday’s attack indicated that while the Taliban may no longer be able to impose their harsh interpretation of Islam there, life is far from normal for the hundreds of thousands who are now returning after fleeing the army’s fierce three months of fighting to wrest back control.
Bashir Ahmed Bilour, provincial minister, blamed the Taliban for the suicide attack and said Pakistanis must be “mentally prepared’’ for more bombings until the Taliban are crushed.
The Pakistani Taliban have vowed revenge after the loss of Swat and the death of their top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike Aug. 5 farther west near the Afghan border. At least 40 US drones have fired missiles into Pakistan’s lawless border areas, targeting militant leaders believed to be a threat to the war in Afghanistan.
The other blast yesterday ripped through a line of trucks ferrying fuel to NATO troops in Afghanistan, setting several oil tankers ablaze at a backed-up border crossing in southwestern Baluchistan Province, police said.
The blast appeared to be the second terrorist attack in a week to target a border crossing.
Hasan Sardar, local police chief, said flames and smoke were billowing into the sky last night as authorities struggled to control the blaze. “It was a big explosion under one of the oil tankers that caused other vehicles to catch fire. The fire is spreading,’’ Sardar said by phone.
“We are at the moment trying our best to control the blaze. We are not sure whether there is any human loss,’’ he said. “It is just panic everywhere there.’’
Police Officer Gul Mohammad said a bomb was suspected. He said security officials had defused another device lying near one of the NATO tankers.