February 4, 2010 in Nation/World

3 U.S. troops killed in Pakistan blast

Sherin Zada And Chris Brummitt Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A Pakistani police officer looks at remains of a vehicle destroyed by a suicide bomb in Lower Dir, Pakistan, on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

U.S. believes Mehsud is dead

 WASHINGTON – U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud is dead following a missile attack last month, a senior intelligence official said Wednesday in the first indication the U.S. has given about the militant’s fate.

 Neither Pakistan nor the U.S. has officially confirmed the death of Mehsud, who commands an al-Qaida-allied movement blamed for scores of suicide bombings and is suspected in a deadly attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan late last year.

 The U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymit, said the conclusion that Mehsud is dead represents the best collective information of U.S. intelligence agencies.

 The statement came after days of posturing by Pakistani Taliban officials, who first said they would prove their leader was alive and well, then reversed course and said they saw no need to prove it.

Associated Press

SHAHI KOTO, Pakistan – Police said the suicide bomber who killed three U.S. soldiers in northwestern Pakistan knew which vehicle was theirs in a five-car convoy and rammed his car into it.

The description of Wednesday’s attack is raising questions of whether the attacker had inside information. Police official Naeem Khan said today that authorities were investigating how the bomber knew the soldiers would be passing through Lower Dir and which vehicle to attack.

The soldiers were part of a little-publicized mission to train local forces to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan’s volatile northwest near the Afghan border.

U.S. officials were skeptical Wednesday that Americans were targeted. But initial reports had blamed the deaths on a roadside bomb.

Authorities have detained 35 suspects in connection with the suicide car bombing, police said today.

The killings were the first known U.S. military fatalities in nearly three years in Pakistan’s Afghan border region, drawing attention to a training program officials rarely discuss because of opposition here to American boots on Pakistani soil.

The blast also killed three girls at a nearby school and a Pakistani paramilitary soldier traveling with the Americans. Two more U.S. soldiers were wounded, along with about 100 other people, mostly students at the school.

“We launched a massive search in the area yesterday, and now about 35 suspects are in our custody, and we are questioning them in an effort to trace those who orchestrated the suicide attack,” Khan told the Associated Press today. Police have recovered the engine number of the vehicle used in the attack in Lower Dir, said Khan.

Lower Dir is a base for Pakistani Taliban militants.

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