ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Two suicide car bomb attacks Saturday killed at least 20 people and injured more than 150 others in northwest Pakistan, sending an ominous signal that the death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud during the summer will not curb the Islamic militants’ agenda for violence in this nuclear-armed state.
The bloodiest explosion occurred in the bustling city of Peshawar, where an assailant detonated his car near a state-owned bank just 500 meters from the U.S. consulate. The blast tore through the building and surrounding structures, killing at least 10 people and wounding 91 more.
Most of the dead and injured were bank customers and passers-by, police said. Police arrested two men, but it wasn’t known what their connection might be.
The other blast occurred in the town of Bannu, about 125 miles south of Peshawar. An attacker in a pickup truck rammed a barricade outside a police station, detonating an explosion that killed 10 people and injured 60 others, said Bannu police chief Kamranzeb Khan.
The blast destroyed most of the police building, Khan said.
The upsurge in violence ended a lull in attacks following the Aug. 5 missile strike believed to have been carried out by the U.S. that killed Mahsud, the Pakistani Taliban chief responsible for overseeing many of the suicide bomb attacks and other acts of terror inflicted on Pakistani cities and towns.
Following his death, the Taliban’s movement in Pakistan found itself mired in disarray, as factions within the group fought over who should succeed Mahsud. In recent weeks, violence in northwest Pakistan had ebbed.
The group has since settled on one of Mahsud’s deputies, Hakimullah Mahsud, as its new leader. With the leadership question settled, there are growing signs that infighting within the Taliban has dissipated.
In an interview with the Associated Press last week, militant commander Qari Hussain Mahsud said the Taliban is once again unified and would unleash a new wave of suicide attacks if Pakistan continues to forge ahead with military operations against militants in the northwest part of the country. It is believed Hussain Mahsud is a key leader of the training of Taliban suicide bombers.
On Saturday, Hussain Mahsud told local journalists that the Taliban was responsible for the attack in Bannu.
“We maintained silence after the assassination of Baitullah to see the government’s policy towards new leadership of Taliban,” Hussain Mahsud said. “We are united and have proved our might by attacking the police station.”