World

Bombings kill 24 in northwest Pakistan

Three separate bombings in northwest Pakistan have left 24 dead as militants counterattack the government's major anti-Taliban offensive close to the Afghan border.

Three separate bombings in northwest Pakistan have left 24 dead as militants counterattack the government's major anti-Taliban offensive close to the Afghan border.

A Pakistani police officer stands guard as others examine the site after a bomb explosion at a recreational facility in Peshawar, Pakistan on Friday, Oct. 23, 2009. It was one of three major militant attacks on Friday. ((Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press))

Early Friday, a suicide bomber struck near a major air force complex in northwestern Pakistan, killing seven people. A lone suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up at a checkpoint on a road leading to the complex, around 50 kilometres from the capital. Police officer Akbar Abbas blamed the Taliban for the attack.

The seven dead included two security troops, while 13 people were wounded.

The complex at Kamra or its workers have been targeted at least once before. In December 2007, a suicide car bomber struck near a bus carrying children of Pakistan air force employees, wounding five.

Later, an explosion ripped through a bus headed to a wedding in a northwest Pakistani tribal area.

Seventeen people were killed in that blast, including women and children.

Local official Zabit Khan says the exact cause of the blast Friday was not immediately certain, but that it could have been a remote-controlled bomb.

Mohmand, like other parts of Pakistan's tribal belt, has been a magnet for Taliban militants. The military has carried out operations there in the past aimed at clearing out insurgents but trouble still flares.

Also Friday, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of a recreational facility in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest. Fifteen people were wounded. The facility includes a restaurant, a swimming pool, a health club and a marriage hall.

"It is part of the violence we are seeing across Pakistan these days," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the region's information minister.

There have been at least nine major militant attacks this month, most against police or army targets.

Violence escalating

The attacks by suspected militants were the latest in a wave of bombings and raids sweeping Pakistan, targeting mostly security-related institutions and killing more than 170 people.

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra is the country's main air force maintenance and research hub.

Some foreign military experts have mentioned it as a possible place to keep planes that can carry nuclear warheads. The army, which does not reveal where its nuclear-related facilities are, has denied that the facility is tied to the program in any way.

Pakistan is under intense pressure to eliminate Islamist militant groups sheltering in its northwest that also attack U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

The military has battled them in various districts, losing hundreds of soldiers, but questions remain about its overall strategic commitment to the fight.

It began its current offensive in South Waziristan seven days ago.

The army has previously moved into South Waziristan three times since 2004. Each time it has suffered high casualties and signed peace deals that left insurgents with effective control of the region.

Western officials say al-Qaeda now uses it and neighbouring North Waziristan as an operations and training base.

With files from The Associated Press