- Associated Press - Monday, September 6, 2010

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes.

About 40 people were wounded in the attack in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road between Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions. A Pakistani army offensive pushed many militants out of South Waziristan in October. The militants still control much of North Waziristan, where U.S. drone aircraft have been conducting a campaign of targeted killings.

Rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station in Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.

Police official Liaquat Ali said 45 police were in the building when the bomber struck.

Local TV footage showed emergency workers using heavy machinery to move the rubble of the mostly destroyed police station. Books and a schoolbag could be seen in the wreckage, and the twisted frames of a motorcycle and a car sat nearby. A neighborhood shop and mosque also were partly destroyed.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted the police for encouraging residents to set up militias, or lashkars, as they are known locally, to fight the militants. The group pledged to carry out additional attacks unless the militias disbanded.

“After the police, we will attack those active in forming anti-Taliban lashkars if they have not given up their activities,” Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The police chief of Lakki Marwat district was killed in a suicide bombing several months ago, and militants have carried out a string of attacks in the area since then.

In recent days, militants have launched attacks across the nation aimed at destabilizing the country and weakening a civilian government already struggling with massive flooding that has displaced millions and caused widespread destruction.

The deadliest have targeted minority Shi’ite Muslims. A suicide bombing killed at least 43 Shi’ite Muslims at a procession in the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday. Two days earlier, a triple suicide attack killed 35 people at a Shi’ite ceremony in the eastern city of Lahore.

Both were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, whose commander, Qari Hussain Mehsud, threatened Friday that his group would wage imminent attacks in the United States and Europe.

On the same day, Pakistani intelligence officials said two suspected U.S. missile strikes killed at least seven people in North Waziristan, which largely is controlled by the Haqqani network, one of the main groups battling Americans in neighboring Afghanistan.

Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mahsud contributed to this report from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan.

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