Suicide bombing kills dozens at Pakistan base

Officials blame Islamic militants for attack on army training center

November 09, 2006|By Laura King and Mubashir Zaidi | Laura King and Mubashir Zaidi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Senior Pakistani officials said Islamic militants were responsible for a suicide bombing at an army training base that killed at least 42 soldiers and wounded about 20 others yesterday.

That would make the attack the deadliest mounted by pro-Taliban insurgents against Pakistan's military, which is allied with the United States in the hunt for figures linked to al-Qaida.

Revenge vowed

No group issued a claim of responsibility, but militants had vowed to avenge a military raid on an Islamic religious seminary last month that killed about 80 people.

Pakistan's government said most of the dead in the Oct. 30 helicopter attack on the seminary were militants who were receiving training, but authorities at the religious school, or madrassa, said the majority were students with no ties to any radical group.

The suicide bombing yesterday was at a base in Dargai, about 85 miles northwest of Islamabad in the restive North-West Frontier province, which borders Afghanistan.

The army said in a statement that a man wrapped in a flowing cloak rushed into an unfenced training area and blew himself up amid several hundred soldiers who were beginning their morning calisthenics. Many were new recruits in their teens.

`Contemptible act'

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Information Minister Mohammed Durrani called the suicide attack a "contemptible act." A witness, Lal Zaman, told the Associated Press of seeing severed limbs, bloodied boots and bits of torn uniforms on the training field. "I saw body parts and injured everywhere," he said.

Troops searched for suspected accomplices, the army said, but no arrests were reported.

Officials said Dargai is known to be a center of activity for the banned Islamic group Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (the Movement for the Implementation of Islamic Law), whose members are dispersed through the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Senior leader killed

One of the group's senior leaders was killed in the madrassa raid in the Bajur tribal region, provoking pledges of retaliation from surviving leaders. Pakistani officials said intelligence indicated that the group had made good on the threat.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the suicide attack yesterday was "linked to the Bajur incident."

The banned group, which seeks to impose a Taliban-style social system, sent many of its adherents to Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned the suicide attack and promised to "deal with it very forcefully," the Information Ministry said.

The White House, which has been pressing Musharraf's government to mount a more vigorous drive against Islamic militants, praised the Pakistani military campaign, which is bitterly opposed in the tribal areas.

"We applaud the government of Pakistan's determination and resolve to fight against terror," Reuters quoted National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe as saying yesterday.

Analysts said the attack on the base could mark a worrying change in tactics by anti-government militants. Suicide bombings have been much less frequent in Afghanistan than in Pakistan.

"It is a new phenomenon here and previously was used for sectarian violence," said Rasul Baksh Raees, an analyst at Lahore University.

Laura King and Mubashir Zaidi write for the Los Angeles Times.

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