/ 12 October 2009

Blast near Pakistan’s Swat valley kills dozens

A suspected suicide bomber killed 41 people in an attack on the Pakistani military on Monday as the Taliban claimed responsibility for a weekend raid on the army’s headquarters

Militant attacks have intensified over the past week as the army prepares to launch a ground offensive on the al-Qaeda-linked fighters’ South Waziristan stronghold.

Details were sketchy from the bomb attack on a military vehicle in the remote Shangla district, near the Swat valley, but military officials said up to 24 people, including some security force members, were killed.

Pakistani Taliban militants linked to al-Qaeda have launched numerous attacks on government and foreign targets over the past couple of years killing hundreds of people.

Members of the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda were suspected to have been behind Saturday’s attack on army headquarters in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.

Commandos stormed an office building near the headquarters and rescued 39 people taken hostage by gunmen after an attack at a main gate of the headquarters.

Nine militants and three hostages were killed in the violence in Rawalpindi while the number of soldiers killed rose to 11, with the death of three wounded men, a military official said.

Pakistani Taliban spokesperson Azam Tariq claimed responsibility and threatened more attacks.

”It was carried out by our Punjab unit,” Tariq said by telephone, referring to Punjab province where Islamist militants linked to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban operate.

”We will take revenge for our martyrs and will carry out more attacks, whether it’s the GHQ or something bigger, he said, referring to the army’s General Headquarters.

Pakistani aircraft attacked Taliban militants in their South Waziristan stronghold on Sunday, killing about 16 militants, a Pakistani intelligence official in the region said.

The military has been conducting air and artillery strikes in south Waziristan for months, while moving troops, blockading the region and trying to split off militant factions.

But a ground offensive, in what could be the army’s toughest test since the militants turned on the state, has yet to begin.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters in an interview in Singapore the offensive was ”imminent”. — Reuters