Sunday, November 15, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | A suicide car bomber attacked a police checkpoint in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing 11 people, including four children, the latest in a wave of militant attacks that have claimed more than 300 lives in the past month.

The attack on the outskirts of Peshawar solidifies the city’s ominous status as a primary target for militants trying to force the military to end an offensive against their associates launched last month in the border region of South Waziristan, where al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are thought to be hiding.

Strikes in the past week alone have killed more than 50 people in the city, including 10 at the regional office of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, which was targeted by a massive truck bombing Friday. The Inter-Services Intelligence agency has been overseeing much of the country’s anti-terror campaign.

On Saturday, a Taliban commander claimed responsibility for that attack and another targeting a police station the same day in neighboring Bannu district. He vowed the violence would continue.

“The suicide bombers were trained by me, and I have a lot more volunteers to carry out more attacks,” Qari Hussain Mehsud told an Associated Press reporter by telephone. The reporter had met the commander in the past and recognized his voice.

Security was tightened in and around Peshawar after those attacks. Police were manning checkpoints at all entry points to the city and were checking every vehicle, said a local government official, Sahibzada Mohammad Anis. It was one such checkpoint that was struck Saturday.

Liaqat Ali Khan, the city’s police chief, said 11 people were killed, including two police officials. Four children and a woman were among the dead, while 25 people were wounded, he said.

Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are waging a war against the Pakistani government because they deem it un-Islamic and are angry about its alliance with the United States. The insurgency began in earnest in 2007, and attacks have spiked since preparations for the offensive in South Waziristan began.

The army says it is making good progress in the battle, and a statement Saturday said seven militants were killed and four soldiers wounded in the latest fighting.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, on Saturday visited two towns — Ladha and Sarrarogha — that were key Taliban bases recently taken by the military.

The South Waziristan offensive follows a similar military push into the Swat Valley during the summer to wrestle control from the Taliban. The government has called the operation a success, but sporadic violence there continues, underscoring the difficulties the army faces.

Pakistani troops killed eight militants in gunbattles Saturday in the valley’s Charbagh town, army spokesman Maj. Mushtaq Ahmad said.

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