41 people were killed and 45 others wounded today during a suicide bomb attack in a crowded market in northwest Pakistan, the fourth militant strike to hit the country in eight days.
The bombing occurred in Alpuri, a small town just outside of the volatile Swat Valley region that was the site of a major Pakistani military offensive earlier this year to flush out Taliban fighters.
A teenage boy with explosives strapped to his body walked up to a military truck in the town's main square and detonated the blast, witnesses said. Six of the people killed were Pakistani soldiers, said North-West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.
The military had for the most part driven Taliban fighters out of the Swat Valley's populated areas during its spring offensive. A U.S. drone aircraft killed the Pakistani movement's leader, Baitullah Mahsud, with a missile strike in August, The Los Angeles Times reports.
In the meantime, since the Swat campaign and the death of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Beitullah Mehsud, in an American drone strike in August, the militants have been relatively quiet. But the attack Monday showed they could still shake the country with serious terror attacks in a short period over a wide geographic spread.
It was the latest a series clearly intended to prove the Taliban’s resilience, to exact revenge for government and American strikes, and to discourage the Pakistani military from expanding its campaign into South Waziristan, the heartland of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The Pakistani air force has been pounding areas of South Waziristan in the last day, a prelude to a possible ground campaign, military officials said. Hundreds are reported to have fled in expectation of an attack in recent days, The New York Times reports.
News agencies also report, among the 41 people killed there were six members of the security forces, officials said. Another 45 people were wounded.
Habibullah Khan, 34 years old, said he was at a security checkpoint on the edge of the market when the blast went off. "It was mayhem. We could not recognize who is dead and who is injured," he said in a telephone interview.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban, who earlier this year were pushed from the Swat Valley, adjacent to Shangla, by a military offensive that won U.S. praise, The Wall Street Journal reports.