ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A suicide attacker struck a security checkpoint in northwest Pakistan today, killing at least seven people and injuring 26.
The attacker – who was in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw – detonated explosives in the Saidu Sharif town of the Swat district, police official Qazi Farooq said.
Army spokesman Maj. Mushtaq Khan said a soldier, a policeman and five civilians died in the attack.
Khan said the checkpoint was being jointly manned by troops and police. The blast also damaged several vehicles, and the victims were transported to a nearby hospital, he said.
The Pakistani military launched a major offensive in Swat early last year after peace deals with local Taliban collapsed. The military took back the Swat valley by mid-2009, but sporadic violence has continued.
Suspicion for today’s attack fell on militants who launched a bloody wave of bombings last fall across Pakistan, leaving 600 people dead in near-daily attacks done in apparent retaliation for an army offensive against the insurgents’ main stronghold, in the tribal region of South Waziristan along the Afghan border.
The attack came a day after two suicide bombers killed 43 people in near-simultaneous blasts in the eastern city of Lahore.
Friday’s bombings also wounded about 100 people, raising fears of a new wave of attacks by Islamic militants.
The bloodiest strike in Pakistan this year saw twin attackers, on foot and wearing suicide jackets, detonate themselves in a busy market in a high-security military district in Lahore. The target appeared to be passing military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians.
Children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop were among the casualties of the blasts, which also ripped apart shops in the market. Witnesses said that bodies, some with missing limbs, were scattered across the area. Some 10 soldiers were among the dead, according to Lahore police chief Parvaiz Rathore.
The bombers struck at 1 p.m., around the time of Friday prayers, in the cantonment area of Lahore, home to the local army garrison and one of the city’s most affluent residential districts. Lahore is the bustling cultural hub of Pakistan, which had enjoyed a period of relative peace in recent weeks. It’s also the capital of Punjab province, the country’s most densely populated area and its political heartland.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.
Five low-intensity blasts in Lahore in the evening, in different locations in a residential area across town, sent panicky locals running through the streets, but damage was reported to be minor.