— A teenage suicide bomber targeted police in a bustling Pakistan town square Friday, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens in the tribal area near the Afghan border, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it targeted the local chief and deputy of a tribal police force who were recruited by the government to help defeat an Islamist insurgency in the northwest.
Only a day earlier, documents released by the United States showed that Osama bin Laden had been unhappy with the Pakistani Taliban for killing civilians and that Al-Qaeda leaders wrote to its chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, urging him to mend his ways.
The bomber, who intelligence officials said was aged 14 to 16, detonated explosives strapped to his chest in Khar, the main town of Bajaur district. Bajaur has been one of the toughest battlegrounds in Pakistan’s fight against a northwestern Taliban insurgency.
It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan since March 2, when at least 22 people were killed by a suicide attack on a mosque in the tribal district of Khyber.
“Twenty people, including five policemen, were killed and 46 others were wounded. Some shops and a restaurant were destroyed,” Islam Zeb, the administrative head of Bajaur tribal district, told AFP.
The local tribal police chief and his deputy were among the dead.
It was the third bomb attack in two days in Bajaur, after twin blasts killed five people — including pro-government elders and security personnel — Thursday.
The violence highlights the insurgency in Pakistan at a time when Islamabad is under renewed US pressure to crack down on militants based on its soil, such as the Haqqani network, blamed for a spectacular assault on Kabul last month.
The military conducted major anti-Taliban offensives in Bajaur in August 2008 and February 2009, and has repeatedly declared the district secure. But militants have still proved able to strike. — AFP