June 13, 2009 in Nation/World

Cleric who criticized Taliban killed

Pakistani offensive has sparked retaliatory strikes
Alex Rodriguez Los Angeles Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A prominent Pakistani cleric who had publicly condemned the Taliban and its suicide bombing attacks was killed Friday by a teenage suicide bomber who detonated explosives inside his office at an Islamic seminary in the eastern city of Lahore. The attack killed at least three other people.

Sarfraz Naeemi, a renowned religious scholar, had spoken openly of his support for the ongoing government military offensive to root out Taliban militants from the Swat Valley and surrounding regions. His death sparked immediate protests on the streets of Lahore by followers angry at the Islamic militant group and at the lack of security provided by police to Naeemi and his seminary.

The bombing was one of two devastating attacks Friday in Pakistan, where a wave of retaliatory strikes continued in the wake of the government’s bid to crush the Taliban movement. In the city of Nowshera, 60 miles west of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden truck into a mosque at a military installation, killing at least six people and wounding at least 90.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Experts have said the Taliban’s strategy is to cause enough mayhem to erode public support for the six-weeks-long offensive. The military has methodically cleared the Taliban out of much of the Swat Valley and the nearby regions of Buner and Lower Dir, and has begun to direct its forces toward pockets of militants in the Bannu region just outside the semiautonomous tribal areas of Waziristan, where pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida militants have long been entrenched.

But as the Pakistani government has made substantial gains, it has struggled to cope with the outbreak of suicide revenge attacks that now are happening almost daily and are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

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