- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Suicide bombers struck Sunday on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border.

A terrorist pretending to need help blew up his car, killing 34 people in northwest Pakistan, and another bomber in the Afghan border province of Khost exploded his bomb near an elementary school, killing 14 children.

Meanwhile, another terrorist target, the Marriott in Islamabad partially reopened three months after a brazen truck bombing at the luxury hotel left 54 dead.

The Marriott building was badly damaged in the September blast - blamed on a Pakistani militant group accused of killing U.S journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 - but renovations, a security overhaul and the addition of a giant bombproof wall meant the hotel was ready to welcome guests again, the owner said.

“We have expressed our resolve that we will not bow before the enemies of Pakistan,” owner Saddaruddin Hashwani said.

The Sunday suicide attack targeted a polling station close to the Swat Valley in Pakistan. It comes amid concern that extremist violence is set to spike now that the country is shifting troops away from the region toward India.

The military has not confirmed the troop movements, but it has restricted military leave and reports said thousands were being redeployed away from the northwest - where many al Qaeda and Taliban militants are based - toward the eastern border with India amid tensions over last month’s attacks in Mumbai.

India blames Pakistani militants for the slaughter of 171 people in its commercial capital, and it has not ruled out force. But leaders of both nuclear-armed countries insist that they want to avoid what would be their fourth war.

Leading Pakistani newspapers warned in editorials Sunday that Pakistan can’t afford to reduce its troop presence along the Afghan border.

“Isn’t that the area where the world’s best intelligence says the extremist militants are holed up in significant numbers and planning to strike targets everywhere?” wrote Dawn, a leading English-language paper. “They cannot be allowed a breather at a time when military operations are ongoing to clear the area of their roguish presence.”

The targeted polling station was in a school in Buner, a district bordering the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani army has waged an intermittent offensive against militants for more than a year. The explosion wounded 14 people, five of them critically, said police official Beharmand Khan.

“The suicide attacker pulled his car outside the polling station and asked people to push the vehicle, saying that it had broken down,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the region containing the Swat Valley. “The moment people started pushing the car, he blew it up.”

In the Afghanistan bombing, the suicide blast went off near the entrance to a police and army post, said Yacoub Khan, the deputy police chief of the eastern province of Khost. U.S. troops are also stationed inside the outpost, but no troops were wounded or killed in the attack.

The U.S. military said that 16 people were killed, including 14 students, an Afghan soldier and another person, who was likely an Afghan security guard who Afghan officials said was killed.

Dr. Abdul Rahman, a doctor at a hospital near the blast, said the children were aged 8 to 10.

Photos of the bombing’s aftermath showed bloodied text books lying on the ground beside small pairs of shoes. The U.S. military also released images of the blast caught on a security camera. Fifty-eight people were wounded.

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