Mingora: A suicide bomber killed at least 15 police recruits on Sunday in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in the deadliest attack since the army regained control over the northwestern valley from the Taliban, officials said.
Authorities were investigating reports that the attacker - possibly in uniform - may have hidden among the dozens of recruits, two officials said.
The blast in the yard of the police station in Mingora, Swat’s main town, came one day after the army said it had destroyed a major training camp for suicide bombers. It indicated that while the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist rule may be over in the valley, life is far from normal even as hundreds of thousands of residents who fled the fighting are returning.
Volunteers for a new community police force were holding their daily drills in the yard adjacent to the station when the attacker detonated his explosives, local government administrator Atifur Rehman told The Associated Press.
“Initial investigations suggest the attacker climbed the small boundary wall and blew himself up, but there is also a report the suicide bomber was already inside,” Rehman said.
Investigators shifted through the blackened wreckage in the courtyard littered with body parts, shredded uniforms and police berets.
At least 14 bodies of uniformed recruits were brought to the local hospital, hospital official Ikram Khan told The Associated Press. Eight wounded recruits were brought in, and one later died, he said.
Deputy inspector general Idrees Khan of the district police said at least 20 were wounded.
Addressing a press briefing on late Sunday, Khan also said there were conflicting reports on whether the bomber climbed the wall or hid himself among the cadets. He had earlier rejected any rumor the attacker might already have been inside.
He blamed the attack on a decision to relax a daily curfew in the area for the Muslim holy month of Ramazan. Police blocked roads around the area soon after the midday blast. Local markets quickly shuttered and authorities ordered residents to stay inside.
After the blast, security forces pursuing Taliban suspects killed 18 militants in a gunbattle just outside Mingora, Brig. Tahir Hameed told reporters late Sunday.
“Many more have been rounded up,” Hameed said.
Pakistan’s army says it is restoring security in Swat and surrounding areas after a three-month military offensive wrested the valley back from Taliban control, but suicide attacks and skirmishes continue.
“After the massive operation in Swat such incidents are expected,” Hussain said.
On Saturday, the army said helicopter gunships had destroyed a training camp outside Mingora that it said was responsible for most of the recent suicide attacks.
The army’s offensive in Swat - begun in April - was its largest in years after periodic peace deals with the hard-line Islamists. The Taliban’s takeover of Swat, a former tourist enclave, had become a symbol of their expansion in the nuclear-armed country.
In July, the military declared it had retaken most of Swat and the surrounding areas, except for small pockets of resistance.
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 on 5 August further west near the Afghan border.
Another suicide bombing on Thursday killed at least 19 guards at the Torkham border checkpoint, one of the main crossing points for NATO supplies for the war against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. About 75% of fuel and ammunition for the US and its allies comes through Pakistan.
The Torkham checkpoint reopened the next day, but on Sunday another main gateway to Afghanistan was closed amid an administrative dispute.
Hundreds of trucks were backed up near the Chaman border, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, Pakistani police officer Abdur Rauf said. He said Afghan customs officials closed the border on Saturday in retaliation for inspections of Afghan trucks carrying grapes and pomegranates by Pakistani customs.
“About 700 out of more than 1,000 lined up are carrying supply for NATO forces,” Rauf said. “We have to put a lot of effort to protect these trucks.”