ISLAMABAD, (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed 41 people in an attack on a Pakistani military convoy passing through a market yesterday as the Taliban claimed responsibility for a weekend raid on the army’s headquarters.
Militant attacks have intensified over the past week as the army prepares to launch a ground offensive on the al Qaeda-linked fighters’ South Waziristan stronghold.
A suicide bomber on foot leapt at a military vehicle in Shangla district, near the Swat valley, security officials said.
“The bomber hit one of three military vehicles that were passing through the busiest market in the district,” top Shangla police official, Khan Bahadur Khan, said by telephone.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said 41 people had been killed, including 35 civilians and six soldiers, and 45 people were wounded.
The army has largely driven the militants out of Swat and their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed by a missile fired by a U.S. drone aircraft in August.
The militants are hitting back.
The army said Pakistani Taliban commander Wali-ur-Rehman was behind Saturday’s attack on its headquarters in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
Commandos stormed an office building near the headquarters and rescued 39 people taken hostage by gunmen after an attack at a main gate of the headquarters.
Nine militants and three hostages were killed in the violence in Rawalpindi while the number of soldiers killed rose to 11, with the deaths of three wounded men, a military official said.
The 10 attackers had wanted to take senior military officers hostage to demand the release of a “long list” of captured militants, said army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas.
Abbas said a telephone conversation had been intercepted between Reham and one of his subordinates.
“It revealed that this attack was planned in the area of South Waziristan,” Abbas told a news conference, adding Rehman had told his subordinate to pray for the attackers’ success.
The leader of the attack, a former soldier who deserted in 2004 and joined a militant group based in Punjab province, was the only attacker captured alive but wounded, Abbas said.