Nine dead in suicide attack on Pakistan Air Force bus


Islamabad : At least nine people, including eight security officials, were killed Thursday in a suicide attack on a Pakistan Air Force bus, a day after military helicopters pounded the hideouts of Islamic militants in the country’s volatile south-western valley of Swat, killing 18.

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A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle blew himself up near the bus in Sargodha, some 175 km southwest of Lahore, capital of the eastern province of Punjab.

“The bus was targeted when it was carrying the employees of the Pakistan Air Force to a training school at the air base, and this was a routine movement which takes place every morning,” said interior ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema.

Four flying officers were among the eight dead air force personnel, while the charred body of the suspected suicide bomber was also found at the scene.

More than 40 people, including six children in a school van passing nearby, were wounded in the bombing, said Waseem Ahmed, the district police officer.

The death toll was feared to rise as some of the injured were in critical condition.

The deadly attack came as the clashes between the security forces and the armed supporters of a radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah resumed Wednesday after a two-day unofficial ceasefire in Swat, located some 160 km from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital Peshawar.

“Our gunship helicopters targeted militant positions in the mountains and 18 to 19 insurgents were killed,” said military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad Wednesday night.

The rebels responded to the offensive with fire from heavy weapons, including mortar rounds.

The truce was reached Monday following the killing of dozens of people in three days of bloody clashes that started when the government deployed an additional 2,500 troops last week to curb the Islamic rebellion Fazlullah had instigated in the scenic valley by using an illegal radio station.

For several months he had been trying to enforce Taliban-style rule in the region by setting up Islamic courts. His 400-men strong Shaheen Commando Force took the task of maintaining law and order in its own hands.

The firebrand cleric declared a holy war against the security forces after the military stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in July. More than 400 people have died in the retaliatory attacks on law enforcers since then.

The Islamic militancy in Swat and other areas of the country emanates from the rapid spread of radical Islam into the settled area of NWFP from tribal areas, where Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters fled after US-led international forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001.