NYT : Truck Bombing Kills 17 Soldiers in Pakistan

Friday, October 26, 2007

Truck Bombing Kills 17 Soldiers in Pakistan

By ISMAIL KHAN | October 26, 2007

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct. 25 — Seventeen soldiers and three civilians were killed on Thursday when a powerful bomb ripped through a truck in the troubled North-West Frontier Province, witnesses and local officials said.

The killings, near the town of Mingora, came one a day after the provincial government deployed 2,500 troops to the area, known as Swat, to quell the rise of extremism associated with an increasingly powerful religious leader there. The region has been transformed in the past few months from a peaceful tourist area to a place of militancy, with a series of deadly bombings that have been aimed at civilians.

Investigators rummaged through the wreckage of a truck carrying 42 soldiers of the civil armed force called the Frontier Constabulary to determine the cause of the explosion.

“I suspect this was the handiwork of a suicide bomber,” said Malik Muhammad Naveed, a senior officer of the Frontier Constabulary, whose force suffered the most casualties.

Witnesses said many wounded soldiers were seen jumping from the overturned, burning truck. At least 25 people, including several civilians, were wounded.

A local religious leader, Maulvi Fazlullah, known as Maulana Radio for preaching Taliban-style Islamic law on his illegal broadcast, had gone underground along with his supporters after the deployment of the troops, people in the area said.

The provincial government announced Wednesday that it had deployed the troops to put down the cleric’s growing power, including his 4,500 armed volunteers.

Since Mr. Fazlullah has gained a following in the province, militants have blown up at least 100 shops selling popular music and videos. According to one account, there have been more than 50 bomb explosions claiming dozens of lives since the central government began a deployment of troops into the region in July.

Mr. Naveed said part of the truck had been struck. “There is no crater to suggest that it was a roadside bomb,” he said. “It has been hit from the side.”

The home secretary of the province, Badshah Gul Wazir, also said that the attack was most likely caused by a suicide bomber.

“Investigations are on,” he said, “but it appears to be the work of a suicide bomber. Whether he walked up to the truck or rammed his Suzuki into it is yet to be determined.”

He put the death toll at 20, including 17 from the Frontier Constabulary. The truck was taking Frontier Constabulary troops to a base when it was hit by a speeding car coming from the opposite direction, said a security official. The truck veered off and fell on a rickshaw before bursting into flames.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the blast set off a chain of explosions, apparently caused by ammunition inside the truck, damaging a nearby gas pump and several shops.

Officials said that when the charred truck was removed with a crane, an engine and parts of a Suzuki car were also found there. They said the body parts of the bomber had yet to be found.

Mr. Gul, the provincial home secretary, vowed that the government would press ahead with its plan to restore its control in the area.

“The guys have to surrender,” he said, referring to the militants. “They have criminal cases registered against them. Whether they do so through negotiations or through force is up to them.”