SHABQADAR, Pakistan (AFP) – Pakistan’s Taliban on Friday claimed their first major attack to avenge Osama bin Laden’s death as 80 people were killed in a double suicide bombing on a paramilitary police training centre.
Around 140 people were wounded, 40 of them fighting for their lives, in the deadliest attack this year in the nuclear-armed country where the government is deep in crisis over the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief by US forces on May 2.
In the fallout over the unilateral raid and in another sign of damaged ties with wary ally Washington, an official said Pakistan’s senior military officer General Khalid Shameem Wynne had cancelled a visit to the United States.
Pakistan has vowed to review intelligence cooperation and one local security official denied a CNN report that US intelligence agents had interrogated three of bin Laden’s widows who were apprehended in the raid and taken into custody.
CNN said the women were interviewed as a group, despite Washington’s wishes to question them separately, and were openly “hostile” to the US officials.
Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which CNN said also attended the meeting, was not immediately available to comment on the report.
Friday’s explosions detonated in northwest Pakistan as newly trained paramilitary cadets, dressed in civilian clothes, were getting into buses for a 10-day leave, police said.
“This was the first revenge for Osama’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Under Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud as leader of the group after he was killed by a US missile in 2009, the Pakistani Taliban has been seen as increasingly inspired by Al-Qaeda in waging mass-casualty attacks.
The bombers blew themselves up in Shabqadar town outside the biggest Frontier Constabulary training centre in the northwest, where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants repeatedly attack security forces.
The town is close to Mohmand, which is in the lawless tribal belt that Washington has branded the headquarters of Al-Qaeda and where CIA drones carry out missile strikes on Taliban and other Islamist militant commanders.
Ahmad Ali, a wounded paramilitary policeman, recalled the horror when the explosions turned a festive Friday morning into a bloodbath.
“I was sitting in a van waiting for my colleagues. We were in plain clothes and we were happy we were going to see our families,” he told AFP by telephone from Shabqadar hospital.
“I heard someone shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ and then I heard a huge blast. I was hit by something in my back shoulder. In the meantime I heard another blast and I jumped out of the van. I felt that I was injured and bleeding.”
Bashir Ahmed Bilour, senior minister for Khyber Paktunkhwa province, said 80 people had been killed, including 69 FC men and 11 civilians, making it the deadliest attack in Pakistan since July 9, 2010 when bombers killed 105 people in Mohmand.
Doctors in Peshawar’s main Lady Reading hospital said they were struggling to save the lives of more than 40 critically wounded paramilitary policemen and had declared a state of emergency to cope with the scale of the casualties.
“Both attacks were suicide attacks. The first suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and detonated his vest among the Frontier Constabulary men,” said the police chief of the Charsadda district, Nisar Khan Marwat.
“When other FC people came to the rescue to help their colleagues, the second bomber came on another motorcycle and blew himself up.”
In August 2010, the then chief of Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary, Sifwat Ghayoor, was killed in a suicide bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The Taliban last week threatened to attack security forces to avenge bin Laden’s killing in a US helicopter raid north of the capital Islamabad.
There has been little public protest in support of bin Laden in a country where more people have been killed in bomb attacks in the past four years than the nearly 3,000 who died in Al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 strikes on the US.
But under growing domestic pressure to punish Washington for the bin Laden raid, Pakistan’s civilian government said Thursday it would review counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States.
It was unclear if the move was intended as a threat, but it showed the extent of the task facing US Senator John Kerry as he prepares to embark on a mission to shore up badly strained ties with Washington’s fractious ally.
Washington did not inform Islamabad that an elite team of Navy SEALs had helicoptered into the garrison town of Abbottabad until the commandos had cleared Pakistani airspace, carrying with them bin Laden’s corpse.
Pakistanis have been outraged at the perceived impunity of the US raid, while asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was living close to a major forces academy, or, worse, conspired to protect him.
Washington is pressing Islamabad to investigate how bin Laden and several wives and children managed to live for five years under the noses of its military in Abbottabad, just 40 miles (65 kilometres) north of the capital.
New footage of the 40-minute raid on the high-walled compound has emerged according to CBS News, which said the SEALs had tiny helmet-mounted cameras.
US officials who saw the footage said commandos fired at bin Laden when he appeared on a third floor landing, but missed and he retreated into a bedroom.
The first SEAL entered the room and pulled aside bin Laden’s daughters, while a second commando was confronted by one of his wives who either rushed him or was pushed in his direction, said CBS.
According to the report, that second commando pushed the wife away and fired a round into bin Laden’s chest, while a third shot bin Laden in the head.