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Police doubt Taliban claim of suicide attack

82 Pakistani cadets killed, 150 people hurt

By Jane Perlez
New York Times / May 14, 2011

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Senior police officials said yesterday that a suicide attack that killed 82 cadets from a government paramilitary force was probably retaliation for an army offensive in Pakistan’s tribal areas and not for the death of Osama bin Laden, as the Pakistani Taliban claimed.

Shortly after the early-morning attack, which was aimed at members of the Frontier Constabulary in the town of Charsadda, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it was retribution for the US raid on May 2 that killed bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad, about 75 miles from the capital.

But the Pakistani Taliban have recently issued several statements claiming responsibility for attacks they did not initiate, police officials said, adding that they doubted that the suicide bombing was carried out by the group or that it was in revenge for the raid.

They said the attack was probably the work of a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban that has been fighting the Pakistani Army in the nearby tribal region of Mohmand, where the army has struggled for two years to subdue the insurgents, who are led by Umar Khalid.

Insurgents in Mohmand have been able to force the Pakistani Army into a lengthy campaign by seeking refuge in sanctuaries across the border in Kunar Province in Afghanistan. NATO forces in Afghanistan have been helping Pakistan by going after the militants as they escape across the border.

Sikandar Hayat Khan Sherpao, a member of the provincial assembly of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said the training facility that was attacked, at Shabqadar Fort, had been a frequent target of militants.

“Basically, the threat is from Mohmand Agency, where militants still have pockets and are active,’’ he said. “I feel that this attack is not in retaliation to the Abbottabad incident. Basically, in the last one and a half months, a new military operation has been started in Mohmand, as the army is going against militants. So this attack can be seen as a retaliation to the Mohmand operation.’’

Bashir Bilour, a senior minister in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, told reporters that officials were withholding assigning blame for the deadly attack.

“We don’t believe in directly blaming any country without any proof,’’ he said.

The bombing also wounded about 150 people, said Muhammad Akbar Hoti, the commandant of the Frontier Constabulary.

The death toll was expected to rise and could end up being the highest number of law enforcement officials killed in a terrorist attack in recent years, said Liaqat Khan, the police chief in nearby Peshawar. A second bomber may have taken part, he said.

The suicide bomber attacked as the paramilitary soldiers were about to return to their homes for a 10-day leave after six months of training, Khan said. The bomber was in a car outside the fort when he detonated the explosives at about 6 a.m.

The death toll was so high because the men were told to wait for their transportation outside the gates, which provided the opportunity to attack them in a cluster, a provincial security official said.

“There are two occasions in one’s life to celebrate: wedding and going home on vacations at the end of six months of training,’’ said Mohammad Sardar, in his mid-20s, who was admitted to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar with a head injury. “So we were all happy, celebrating the occasion, with bedrolls on our heads, thinking of home, when the first explosion occurred, followed by a second.’’

The Frontier Constabulary forces who were the target of the suicide attack are not involved in the fighting in Mohmand. They are security guards at checkpoints in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, but their graduation, officials said, provided an accessible target for the militants to drive home their message.

The Frontier Constabulary, which dates from the 1800s, is run by the Pakistani police authorities and has about 70,000 paramilitary soldiers. In addition to patrolling checkpoints, members of the constabulary provide security at foreign embassies and consulates in major cities.

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