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Taliban launches another attack in Pakistan when suicide car bomb kills 41 at crowded market

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Militants on Monday launched their fourth assault in a week on strategic targets across Pakistan, this time with a suicide car bombing against a military vehicle in a crowded market in the northwest, killing 41 people and wounding dozens more.

The bombing took place in the Shangla district, an area within the Swat Valley but under separate administration. The Pakistani military had declared the valley cleared of militants after an offensive this summer and announced that the Taliban was a shattered force.

Since the Swat campaign and the death of the Pakistani Taliban leader, Beitullah Mehsud, in an American drone strike in August, the militants have been relatively quiet. But the attack on Monday showed they could still shake the country with serious terrorist attacks in a short period over a wide geographic spread.

It was the latest in a series clearly intended to prove the Taliban's resilience, to exact revenge for government and American strikes, and to discourage the Pakistani military from expanding its campaign into South Waziristan, the heartland of the Taliban in Pakistan.

The Pakistani air force has been pounding areas of South Waziristan, a prelude to a possible ground campaign, military officials said. Hundreds are reported to have fled in recent days in expectation of an attack.

On Saturday, in one of their boldest gambits, 10 militants dressed in army fatigues and armed with automatic weapons, mines, grenades and suicide jackets breached the perimeter of the army headquarters in Rawalpindi in a raid that left 23 people dead and set off a 20-hour siege.

The standoff ended Sunday morning with the rescue of 39 hostages by army commandoes, but showed that even a building of the intelligence wing of the army, was vulnerable to Taliban attacks.

The attack in Shangla was clearly aimed to shake the confidence of the underfinanced local government and the people who returned to their homes only two months ago after the military operation in Swat.

Among the dead were six soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, who were part of a quick response force and four newly recruited members of a community police force, a local police official said.

One Pakistani general angrily denounced Monday's bombing as "a diversionary tactic" that would not dissuade the Pakistani military from carrying out an expected offensive in South Waziristan.

Fast facts

Attack raises nuclear concerns

The assault by Islamic militants on Pakistan's army headquarters on Saturday is again raising fears of an insurgent attack on the country's nuclear weapons installation. But a U.S. counterproliferation official in Washington said Monday that strong safeguards are in place and there is no reason to believe the country's nuclear arsenal is in imminent jeopardy of seizure by militants.

Associated Press

Taliban launches another attack in Pakistan when suicide car bomb kills 41 at crowded market 10/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2009 9:56pm]
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