Wednesday, August 13, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) | A roadside bomb destroyed an air force truck on a bridge Tuesday in Pakistan’s volatile northwest and killed up to 14 people, including a child. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it “an open war” and retaliation for recent military operations in the region.

Authorities, meanwhile, investigated whether an insurgent reported killed in one of the military operations was a senior al Qaeda commander. The offensive in the Bajur tribal area reportedly has killed 160 people and caused tens of thousands to flee to camps farther north.

“It is an open war between us and them,” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar said. “If these kinds of operations continue against us in Swat and in the tribal areas, we will continue this.”

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said the country would not yield in its attempts to end militancy in its frontier areas.

The bomb hit the air force truck as it crossed a bridge on the outskirts of Peshawar. The blast tore a big hole in the bridge deck and reduced the Mazda truck to a smoldering wreck.

A provincial government spokesman, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said the explosion killed 14 people, most of them air force personnel, and wounded more than a dozen.

An air force statement put its death toll at five airmen, two lower-ranking personnel and two civilian employees. Five air force personnel also were wounded, it said.

A 5-year-old girl in a nearby vehicle was among those killed, said Nisar Khan, a Peshawar police officer. He said police were trying to trace her relatives.

On Tuesday, a senior Interior Ministry official confirmed that authorities were probing the identity of a suspected militant reported killed this week during the fighting in Bajur.

A senior intelligence official identified the militant as an Egyptian known as Abu Saeed and said he was believed to be a close aide of al Qaeda No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri. He said authorities had intelligence that the militant was killed but had not found the body.

A top al Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed, who had appeared in videos issued by the terrorist network, is also known as Abu Saeed al-Masri. The ministry official said authorities were trying to determine whether the Abu Saeed reported killed was the same man.

Both Pakistani officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Two spokesmen for Afghanistan’s Taliban, Qari Yousef Ahmadi and Zabiullah Mujahid, said they had no information about the reported death.

In late July, an al Qaeda explosives and poison expert, Abu Khabab al-Masri, was killed by a suspected U.S. missile strike in the Pakistani border region of South Waziristan.

On Tuesday, Pakistani army helicopter gunships fired on suspected militant positions in Bajur, and a top militant was believed to be among those killed.

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