PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Two homicide car bombs killed 16 people and wounded about 150 others in separate attacks in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, just days after the Taliban warned homicide strikes were coming if the military pressed forward with an offensive. A third bomb injured four in the restive region.
Pakistan's mountainous, lawless northwest region along the Afghan border — where the government holds little control — is a favored area for insurgents to plan attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, as well as on Pakistani security forces and government workers.
A homicide bomb was detonated outside a bank affiliated with the army in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, police said. Ten people were killed and 79 wounded, said Sahibzada Mohammed Anis, a senior government official.
An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw vehicles overturned by the blast, buildings gutted and glass scattered everywhere. Most of the casualties were customers in the bank or people loitering outside.
"We saw body parts in the car and our investigation confirms it was a suicide attack," said Malik Shafqat, a police official in Peshawar. He said the attacker also threw a hand grenade before detonating the bomb but it didn't explode.
A homicide blast also hit a police station in the province's Bannu district earlier Saturday, killing at least six people and wounding nearly 70 others, police said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
A third bomb exploded in the northern town of Gilgit, wounding four people, Pakistan's SAMA news channel quoted local police Chief Ali Sher as saying. He described it as a "low-intensity bomb" but provided no further details.
The latest strikes came two days after the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan said it was ready to stage more homicide attacks in the region after it was ousted from the Swat Valley in July by an army offensive.
Qari Hussain Mehsud — known for training Taliban homicide bombers — warned of more attacks in an AP interview at a secret location in North Waziristan on Thursday, just hours before U.S. missiles hit the area and killed 12 people.
"We have enough suicide bombers and they are asking me to let them sacrifice their lives in the name of Islam, but we will send suicide bombers only if the government acts against us," he said in the interview.
The U.S. has fired dozens of missiles from unmanned drones to take out top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in the northwest over the past year. Although Pakistan routinely protests the strikes, it is widely believed to secretly cooperate with them.
A CIA drone attack felled former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud on Aug. 5.
Qari Hussain Mehsud phoned the AP to claim responsibility for the police station attack Saturday. "We have broken the silence as the government did not understand the pause in attacks, and from now there will be an increase in the number of suicide bombings," he said.
He urged civilians to stay away from police and security force installations.
Taliban attacks surged in the region last week. Militants ambushed a convoy of prominent anti-Taliban tribal elders in Bannu district on Thursday, spraying their cars with gunfire and killing nine people. Pakistani authorities have urged tribal elders to speak out against the Taliban, and in turn the militants have killed scores of local leaders.
North West Frontier Province's information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said the attacks would not deter the government from fighting militants. He said security forces had arrested 40 would-be homicide bombers in recent months in the northwest, thwarting efforts by the Taliban to create chaos.
"It is not only our duty ... to fight this menace of terrorism, it is a responsibility of the whole world," Hussain told reporters in Peshawar. "We are on the front line today, that's why our blood is being shed."