CHARSADDA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Suicide bombers attacked a Pakistani paramilitary academy on Friday, killing 80 people in revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden as Pakistani anger over the U.S. raid to get the al Qaeda leader showed no sign of cooling.
U.S. special forces flew in from Afghanistan to find and kill bin Laden at his hideout in a northern Pakistani town on May 2.
Pakistan welcomed the killing of bin Laden as a major step against militancy but was outraged by the secret U.S. raid that got him, saying it was a violation of its sovereignty.
On the other hand, the discovery of bin Laden living in the town of Abbottabad, near the country’s top military academy, has deepened suspicion in the United States that Pakistani security forces knew where he was hiding.
Bin Laden’s followers have vowed revenge for his death and the Pakistani Taliban said the Friday attack by two suicide bombers on a paramilitary academy in the northwestern town of Charsadda was their first taste of vengeance.
“There will be more,” militant spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The attackers struck as the recruits were going on leave and 65 of them were among the 80 dead. Pools of blood strewn with soldiers caps and shoes lay on the road outside the academy as the wounded, looking dazed with parts of their clothes ripped away by shrapnel, were loaded into trucks.
Shahid Ali, 28, was on his way to his shop when the bombs went off. He tried to help survivors.
“A young boy was lying near a wrecked van asked me to take him to hospital. I got help and we got him into a vehicle,” Ali said.
The bomb attack was a grim reminder of the militant threat Pakistan faces even as bin Laden’s discovery 50 km (30 miles) from the capital has revived suspicion of Pakistani double-dealing.
The Pakistan Taliban, close allies of al Qaeda, are fighting to bring down the nuclear-armed state and impose their vision of Islamist rule. They launched their war in earnest in 2007, after security forces cleared militant gunmen from a radical mosque in the capital, killing about 100 people.
Pakistan has long used militants as proxies to oppose the influence of its old rival India, and is widely believed to be helping some factions even while battling others.
It has rejected as absurd suggestions its security agencies might have known where bin Laden was hiding.
The United States has long pressed Pakistan to tackle Afghan Taliban taking shelter in Pakistani enclaves on the border but the chance of greater cooperation with the United States appears to have been dented by the U.S. raid to get bin Laden.
The chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff committee, General Khalid Shameem Wynne, has canceled a five-day visit to the United States beginning on May 22.
“He called his U.S. counterpart ... and informed him that the visit could not be undertaken under existing circumstances,” a military official told Reuters.
He did not elaborate but the decision to cancel the visit came as the cabinet defense committee said it was reviewing cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism.
The parameters of such cooperation would be clearly defined “in accordance with Pakistan’s national interests and the aspirations of the people,” the committee said in a statement.
The military and government have also come in for criticism at home, partly for failing to find bin Laden but more for failing to detect or stop the unauthorized U.S. raid to kill him.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani will be at a closed-door briefing by military officials to parliament later on Friday.
The United States has made clear it will go after militants in Pakistan when it finds them and it has stepped up attacks in the northwest with its drone aircraft — another source of friction between the uneasy allies — since bin Laden’s death.
Pakistan officially objects to the attacks, although U.S. officials say they are carried out on an understanding with Pakistan.
“There are absolutely no plans at present to cease or scale back U.S. counterterrorism operations in Pakistan,” one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. “Efforts to thwart terrorism will continue.
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for suspending aid to Pakistan because of doubts about its commitment in going after violent Islamists.
But President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of maintaining cooperation with Pakistan in the interests of battling militancy and bringing stability to neighboring Afghanistan.
Debate over whether Bush administration interrogation practices helped find bin Laden heated up when Senator John McCain said torture of detained militants did not help track down the al Qaeda leader.
McCain said CIA Director Leon Panetta had told him the trail to bin Laden did not — as some aides to former President George W. Bush have asserted — begin with information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States who the U.S. government acknowledges was “waterboarded” 183 times.
McCain said he wanted to clear up “misinformation” that could make Americans think harsh treatment of prisoners was acceptable. Waterboarding, a former of simulated drowning, is deemed torture by human rights groups and others.
“In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden,” McCain said in the Senate.
Multiple U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters the real breakthrough that led to bin Laden came from a mysterious CIA detainee named Hassan Ghul. Ghul, who was not captured until 2004 at the earliest, was not subjected to waterboarding.
It was Ghul, the officials said, who after years of hints from other detainees provided the information that prompted the CIA to focus intensely on finding Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, a pseudonym for the courier who would lead them to bin Laden.
Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider, Haji Mujtaba, Augustine Anthony and Izaz Mohmand; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sugita Katyal