Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two powerful suicide attacks struck different areas of northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, apparently targeting the country’s security forces. In the first attack, a bomber killed at least six people and wounded more than 60 others outside a police station in Bannu.

Shortly thereafter, in Peshawar’s commercial district, another attacker blew himself up outside a bank affiliated with the Pakistani army, killing ten people and wounding more than 70 others.

Authorities in Bannu said the suicide bomber exploded a small truck full of explosives, destroying the police station and surrounding buildings.

District Police Officer Iqbal Marwat said nearby civilians were wounded, but most of the casualties were police officers. He said the attacker tried to ram the vehicle through the main gate, but then detonated the bomb after police opened fire.

Local media are quoted a representative for the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as taking responsibility for the bombing.

Ten people have been killed and 71 wounded, five of them critically.

In a telephone call, Taliban spokesman Qari Hussain Mehsud warned civilians to keep away from security checkpoints and other police installations, saying that “we have broken the silence as the government did not understand the pause in attacks, and from now there will be an increase in the number of suicide bombings.”

This is the first time the alliance of more than a dozen militant groups with links to al-Qaida has claimed responsibility since its former leader Baitullah Mehsud was reportedly killed in a U.S. missile strike. Analysts had suggested the group was in disarray following Mehsud’s death.

Hours later in Peshawar, officials say an attacker in a parked car threw a grenade at a crowd of people outside the Askari Bank before detonating a bomb in his car.

“Ten people have been killed and 71 wounded, five of them critically,” said the chief government administrator of Peshawar, Sahibzada Anis, to the Reuters news agency.

It is not only our duty […] to fight this menace of terrorism, it is a responsibility of the whole world.

“It was terrible. My children are very frightened. All the windows of my house are broken. It was very frightening,” said Beenish Asad, a witness to the event, who lives near where the explosion took place.

No one has claimed responsibility for that particular attack. Senior police official Ghafoor Afridi told Voice of America that the bomber had managed to bypass multiple security checkpoints. “There was checking all around. But somehow, it is not possible to check all vehicles, so they might have slipped a vehicle inside and exploded it,” said Afridi.

North West Frontier Province’s information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said that the recent violence would not discourage government forces from fighting the rebels. “It is not only our duty […] to fight this menace of terrorism, it is a responsibility of the whole world. We are on the front line today, that’s why our blood is being shed.”

Hussain also said “we are not scared of these people and we have to extend our operations wherever these terrorists are operating,” adding that forty suspected would-be suicide bombers had been apprehended within the past several months.

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan released a statement in which it condemned the bombings. “[The attacks] highlight the vicious and inhuman nature of this enemy whose true target is the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the security of all Pakistanis,” the embassy said.

Saturday’s attacks come as the Pakistani military works to expand its offensive against the Taliban from in and around Swat Valley to the north to South Waziristan.