Reuters : Islamist militants kill 21 in NW Pakistan blast

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Islamist militants kill 21 in NW Pakistan blast

By Hameedullah Khan | October 25, 2007

MINGORA, Pakistan, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Islamist militants killed at least 21 people in what may have been a suicide attack on an army convoy in northwest Pakistan, where a Taliban-style movement has taken root, officials said on Thursday.

The blast in the Swat valley set fire to a truck laden with ammunition a day after the military sent around 2,000 troops to the district in response to growing militant activity.

"We are trying to find out whether it was a suicide attack or a roadside blast," Malik Naveed, commander of the paramilitary Frontier Corps in Swat, told Reuters by telephone. "Our people are on the spot to find out the cause."

The bodies of the victims were badly burnt. Naveed said at least 17 of the dead were soldiers.

Gul Haleem, in charge of the casualty department at a hospital in the town of Saidu Sharif, said he had counted 21 corpses.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the "dastardly terrorist attack" on the convoy, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

State television reported that a firefight had broken out after the blast, the latest in a series of attacks on security forces in recent months which have killed hundreds of people. Witnesses said, though, it was the sound of ammunition exploding.

"When we reached near the truck it was burning. Flames were rising high into the sky. Ammunition was exploding. Police stopped us going near the truck," local resident Saeed Khan said.


Police said the explosion had been caused by a roadside bomb, but security and government officials said the cause was still being investigated.

"Initial information suggests the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device, but we are investigating," said Arshad Majeed, a senior government official. "It could be a suicide attack."

Swat has seen a surge in militant activities since Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban cleric, reportedly launched an illegal FM radio calling people to jihad or Muslim holy war.

Fazlullah is de facto head of a pro-Taliban group, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) or Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law, which was banned by U.S. ally President General Pervez Musharraf in January 2002.

Militants have attacked security forces and carried out bomb attacks in recent months in the scenic valley in North West Frontier Province, and have been forcing residents there to follow a strict Islamic code.

Pakistani tribal areas have been a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and Taliban militants who have fled Afghanistan. Thousands of soldiers and militants have been killed in battles in these regions.

Violence has escalated across Pakistan since July, when militants scrapped a peace deal and the army raided a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

Officials suspect Islamist militants were behind the worst blast in Pakistan's 60-year history, when at least 139 people were killed in Karachi last week in a suicide attack on a procession led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto on her return from eight years of self-imposed exile.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Augustine Anthony)

© Reuters 2007 All rights reserved