Suicide bomber kills 11 in Pakistan's Swat

Sat Mar 13, 2010 5:07am EST

* New wave of violence marks renewed militant push

* Attacks challenge government's assertion Taliban weakened

* Security tight in Rawalpindi (Adds Taliban comments, tight security in Rawalpindi)

By Hazrat Ali Bacha

MINGORA, Pakistan, March 13 (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber targeting security forces killed at least 11 people on Saturday, Pakistani police said, part of a renewed push against the state after one of the biggest security crackdowns in years.

The assault near a security checkpost in Swat Valley, which also wounded 35 people, came a day after a suicide attack on the military killed at least 45 people in the eastern city of Lahore.

"Our men carried out these attacks and more strikes will continue all over the country because the entire Pakistan has become a colony of the United States," Taliban spokesman Tariq Azam told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Qazi Ghulam Farooq, Mingora city police chief, said the suicide bomber in the latest attack was on a rickshaw. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ (For full coverage of Pakistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK] ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Two soldiers, three policemen and five civilians were killed.

"I saw a burning vehicle ... at least five people, including some women, who burned to death," a witness said.

The road to Mingora's main courthouse was blocked by concrete slabs, sand bags and barbed wire. The blast left two rickshaws twisted and a car burning. Windows were shattered in nearby buildings in Mingora, Swat Valley's main town.

The military launched a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat in April last year, largely clearing Islamist fighters out after months of clashes.

Militants have gone on the offensive again after a recent lull in violence, challenging government assertions that an assault in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan had dealt a major blow to Pakistan's al Qaeda-backed Taliban. [ID:nSGE62A03O]

The Pakistani Taliban have attacked many targets, including a volleyball match and army headquarters in the town of Rawalpindi, close to the capital, Islamabad.

"TERROR SIEGE"

On Saturday, security was tightened in the area. A Reuters witness saw a convoy of at least 10 vehicles near Rawalpindi with between four and six soldiers in each.

There was also a heavy security presence at intersections. Police said the measures were taken as a precaution after the Lahore carnage.

The Taliban have often melted away after offensives and then struck back after government offensives on their strongholds.

"In Swat and other parts of tribal areas, they have been defeated comprehensively. But there are what you call individual groups all over the country," said defence analyst Mehmood Shah.

Highlighting the alarm in Pakistan, one front-page newspaper headline read: "Lahore Under Terror Siege".

The latest wave of violence is likely to worry the United States in several ways. For one, it will raise fresh questions about stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Washington may also worry Pakistan will further focus on fighting homegrown Taliban, instead of hunting Afghan militants who cross the border to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the White House's main priority as it tries to stabilise the country before a U.S. troop pullout in 2011.

The blast in Mingora was the sixth this week in Pakistan, and will add to pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari during a critical period. The economy is sluggish and foreign investors have been scared away by violence.

The unpopular Zardari also faces calls to hand over his major powers -- such as the right to dissolve parliament and choose the army chief -- to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Unlike Zardari, Gilani has not antagonised Pakistan's powerful military and he may have the best chance of stabilising Pakistan.

Amid the political turmoil, the attack on Saturday is likely to re-focus attention on security in Swat, a former tourist valley 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Islamabad,

Last month, a suspected suicide bomber killed six people in an attack on security forces in a market in Mingora, police said. (Additional reporting by Junaid Khan in Mingora and Kamran Haider in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Tait) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)




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