Suicide bomber kills 20 in northwest Pakistan

KHAR, Pakistan Fri May 4, 2012 5:06am EDT

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KHAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least 20 people and wounded at least 45 on Friday in an attack on a police checkpoint in northwest Pakistan, casting doubt on official assertions that security offensives have weakened militants.

The bomber struck near a crowded market in Bajaur, one of the unruly Pashtun tribal regions near the Afghan border where the military has mounted offensives in recent years against the al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban, the biggest security threat to the country.

Dr. Mohammed Aafif at the Headquarters Hospital in Khar confirmed the death toll. At least three of the dead were policemen, including a senior officer, another official said.

Police and security forces sealed off the site of the attack.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistan Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We carried out the attack today," said TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. "We are very happy today that we have achieved our target."

Pakistan, a strategic U.S. ally, has failed to break the back of the Taliban despite numerous crackdowns.

The Taliban have mounted suicide bombings, which have often killed civilians, and shooting attacks on security forces in their bid to topple the government.

(Reporting by Sahibzada Bahauddin in Bajaur, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Chris Allbritton)

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