Nine killed in suicide attack on Pakistan Air Force bus


Sargodha/Islamabad : At least nine people, including eight Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officials, were killed Thursday in a suicide attack on the bus they were travelling in the eastern province of Punjab.

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A suicide bomber riding an explosive-laden motorcycle blew himself up near the bus carrying the air force personnel on duty from Matha Massom to Sargodha Air Base, some 175 km southwest of Lahore, capital of Punjab, said a PAF statement.

“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 Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesman of interior ministry.

Four flying officers, three civilian employees and one squadron leader were among the eight dead air force personnel, while the charred body of the suspected suicide bomber was also found at the scene, according to Online news agency of Pakistan.

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 injured have been shifted to hospitals, where 22 are said to be in critical condition. The death toll was feared to rise. All hospitals nearby have declared emergency.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have condemned the attack vowing to clamp down heavily on terrorism.

Musharraf, an important US ally in the war against terror, said in his statement that militants were targeting security forces to affect the law and order situation in the country.

DPA adds: Thursday’s deadly attack came a day after military helicopters pounded the hideouts of Islamic militants in the country’s volatile south-western valley of Swat, killing 18.

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-strong Shaheen Commando Force had virtually set up a parallel government.

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.