The Pakistani Taliban is claiming responsibility for detonating two suicide bombs at the Frontier Constabulary in Shahbqadar, on the edge of the tribal areas which line the border with Afghanistan. The UK Guardian notes that the Pakistani army “recently launched a major offensive against the Taliban” in the area.
At least 80 people were killed, and more than a hundred wounded. Most of the victims were recruits for the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary, which the BBC notes has been “a frequent target of Taliban militants based in the nearby Mohmand tribal region since 2007.” The recruits were preparing to head home on leave after training. Some of them were already packed into minivans, while others were loading their luggage.
According to a Pakistani police chief quoted by the AFP news service, “The first suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and detonated his vest among the Frontier Constabulary men. When other people came to the rescue to help their colleagues, the second bomber came on another motorcycle and blew himself up.”
Fox News reports “about 3 to 4 pounds of explosives were used in one explosion,” based on an estimate by Pakistani police. The other bomb was packed with “ball bearings and nails” to increase the body count. An eyewitness said, “There was a big blast… I saw smoke, blood, and body pieces all around.”
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks in a series of telephone interviews with the media. A spokesman told CNN, “This is the retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden. Pakistani and U.S. forces should be ready for more attacks.” Another told Reuters, “It’s the first revenge for the martyrdom of bin Laden. There will be more.”
Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told the Associated Press that attacks were being planned against Americans living in Pakistan. He blamed the government of Pakistan for failing to stop the attack that killed bin Laden, saying “the Pakistani army has failed to protect its land.”
The attack comes as Pakistan reels from the stunning American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a mission that penetrated Pakistani air defenses and rubbed out the terrorist mastermind in the middle of a town filled with military officers. A BBC correspondent says “many politicians and members of the public appear to be less concerned about Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and more about the way the US was able to carry out its raid without official permission.”
In a gruesome coincidence, the New York Times reported today that the chief of Pakistan’s army, General Ashfaq Kayani, “seems unlikely to respond to American demands to root out militant leaders” and intended to maintain ties with them. The Times also noted that “many in the lower ranks of the military have greater sympathy for the militant groups than the United States.”
No word yet on whether today’s bombing attacks will change any hearts or minds, although Fox News reports that the chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff canceled a scheduled visit to the United States in the wake of the attack. This was said to be done “in view of the prevailing environment,” by which the Pakistani military means the American raid to kill bin Laden, not the suicide bombing that just killed 80 of their Frontier Constable trainees.
The U.S. embassy in Pakistan issued a statement of support for Pakistan after the suicide attacks, saying the United States “respected the nation’s sacrifices” and would continue to stand with them in the battle to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and allied terrorist organizations.”
Pakistan will soon have to choose between its ties to terrorists and its relationship with the civilized world – a choice it should have been compelled to make long ago. Perhaps the conflicted elements of its military and intelligence services should weigh the life of the mass murderer American special forces took down against the lives of innocent citizens bin Laden’s allies are killing, and ask themselves how many of their people they feel like sacrificing to their friends in the Taliban and al-Qaeda.