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Suicide bomber kills 16 in northwest Pakistan

Residents gather near a minibus, which was damaged by a suicide bomb attack, in Kohat, Pakistan's northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province December 8. 2010. REUTERS/Shahid Khanz

KOHAT, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up beside a minibus in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 16 people, officials said.

Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government faces Taliban insurgents who have sustained a campaign of suicide bombings in defiance of a series of military offensives launched last year against their strongholds in the northwest.

“A boy between the ages of 18 and 20, who was carrying about 6 kg (13 lbs) of explosives, carried out the attack,” said Dilawar Bangash, police chief in the town of Kohat, where Wednesday’s bombing took place. Thirty-four people were wounded, hospital officials said.

Many shops were destroyed.

Witness Inayat Orakzai said: “The bus, which was filled with passengers, was about to take off when a teenage boy came near the door of the bus and blew himself up.”

The Pakistani Taliban movement, which is linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing on the office compound of a government official in the Mohmand region of the northwest on Monday, which killed at least 40 people.

The bombers attacked while a meeting on ways of strengthening the tribal militias set up to help the government fight militants was under way.

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website have raised fresh questions about threats posed by Pakistani militant groups, both to the Islamabad government and its ally Washington.

In one cable dated Feb. 21, 2009, former U.S. ambassador to Islamabad Anne Patterson predicted it would take 10-15 years to defeat a “witches brew” of militants in Pakistan’s northwest ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border.

Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alex Richardson