Nineteen killed in suicide bombing in Pakistan

LAKKI MARWAT, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber rammed his car into a police station in northwest Pakistan on Monday killing at least 19 people, police said, in a new wave of attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants.

The recent bombings end a relative lull in militant violence over the past month and turn up the heat on a government overwhelmed by devastating floods that have made millions homeless and hammered the economy.

Nearly 100 people were killed last week in suicide bombings on processions of minority Shi’ite Muslims in the eastern city of Lahore and southwestern city of Quetta.

“It goes to show that the terrorists have no creed except bloodshed and chaos, and are desperately carrying out their agenda regardless of the precarious conditions,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani told a meeting of provincial officials.

Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in the town of Lakki Marwat, warning the government not to use lashkar, or militias, to fight the group.

The bomber struck a school van before hitting the rear wall of the police station. The blast turned most of the police station into rubble. Burned-out cars were flipped on their sides.

“Nineteen people have been killed. There are nine policemen and two children among the dead,” said the Information Minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

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Hussain said 34 people, including 20 policemen, were wounded.

Earlier this year, a suicide bomber blew himself up in an SUV at a volleyball game, killing nearly 100 people in a village near Lakki Marwat in one of the deadliest attacks in the country.

Pakistan’s Taliban have been fighting to topple the U.S.-backed government for years. Their ambitions have grown, complicating the U.S. war on militancy.

Last week, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to launch attacks in the U.S. and Europe “very soon,” after U.S. prosecutors charged their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, over a plot that killed seven CIA employees at a U.S. base in Afghanistan last December.

On Monday, missiles fired from a pilotless drone aircraft killed five militants in North Waziristan, intelligence officials said. There was no independent confirmation.

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The army has launched a series of offensives over the last year which it says have weakened the Taliban, although analysts question their effectiveness because militants tend to melt away during crackdowns and establish strongholds elsewhere.

“There need to be consistent and far more targeted military operations. And in particular, there needs to be a focus on the militants’ command and control,” said Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for the International Crisis Group.

The army has raised its profile by leading flood relief efforts, reinforcing the view that civilian governments can’t handle major crises.

“Whatever these poor soldiers can do, they are doing for us. They give us food three times a day, also clothes and other things,” said flood victim Naseema Bibi at a camp.

The military, however, is stretched because of its flood operations and militants may exploit the void, analysts say.

The United Nations said on Monday it needs double the initial $460 million in aid to help victims of the flood.

Additional reporting Zeeshan Haider and Christopher Allbritton in Islamabad and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Nick Macfie