- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | A suicide car bombing targeting Pakistani troops killed 41 people Monday, the fourth grisly militant attack in just more than a week, as the Taliban pledged to mobilize fighters across the country for more strikes.

The Taliban also took responsibility for the 22-hour weekend attack on the nation’s heavily fortified army headquarters, saying a cell from Pakistan’s most-populous province carried out the raid.

The claim that a Punjabi faction of the Pakistani Taliban was behind that strike is a sign the insurgents have forged links with militants outside their main strongholds in Pashtun areas close to the Afghan border, increasing their potency.

The army, however, maintained it was launched from South Waziristan - where the military is preparing for what will likely be a long and bloody offensive against the major base of the Taliban along the frontier.

In advance of that offensive, the militants have launched a wave of attacks across the country.

In the latest strike, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives near an army vehicle in a market in the northwest Shangla district, provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.

The attack killed 41, including six security officers, and wounded 45 other people, he said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“Such attacks cannot deter us from the offensive against the militants,” Mr. Hussain said. “We will continue our fight till the death of the last terrorist.”

In a statement carried by the state-run news agency, President Asif Ali Zardari said the attacks would not undermine the government’s resolve to eliminate the insurgent groups.

Shangla lies east of Swat Valley, which has been the focus of an intense military operation against the Taliban. The army has said it largely cleared the valley of the insurgents, but the bombing demonstrated their continuing ability to mount deadly attacks there. Many Taliban are believed to have melted into the rural areas or gone to neighboring districts.

The recent string of attacks began last week when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a heavily guarded U.N. aid agency in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, killing five staffers. On Friday, a suspected militant detonated an explosives-laden car in the middle of a busy market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 53 people.

Those attacks were followed by the raid on army headquarters in the city of Rawalpindi on Saturday that killed nine militants and 14 others. Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the militants were hoping to seize senior army officials and trade them for their jailed comrades.

“Their main focus was the release of their leaders,” he said.

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