ISLAMABAD – A suicide bomber attacked a bakery in Pakistan's northwest on Sunday, killing 18 people, and another bomb in the volatile region left six others dead. The attacks were the latest in a wave of bloodshed to hit Pakistan since the U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.
Also Sunday, a Pakistani security official said authorities are nearly certain that a recent U.S. missile strike killed al-Qaida commander Ilyas Kashmiri.
The suicide bomber struck the bakery in a neighborhood were army personnel live in the town of Nowshera, police said. At least two soldiers were among the dead.
The attacker was a young man carrying around four pounds of explosives. The blast caused some gas cylinders in the bakery to explode, leading to a fire that left many of the 40 wounded in serious condition, said Fazal Maula, a police official.
Earlier in the day, a bomb exploded at a bus stop in the Matani area of the northwest, killing six people and wounded several others, officials said. It appeared to have been planted at the bus stop, as opposed to a suicide attack.
There was no claim of responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have claimed credit for other recent attacks, saying they were avenging bin Laden's death in the May 2 U.S. raid.
Kashmiri is the latest al-Qaida leader to be killed, though there are still lingering doubts after the missile strike late Friday.
Kashmiri was rumored to be a potential long-shot candidate to replace bin Laden as head of al-Qaida.
U.S. officials have described him as al-Qaida's military operations chief in Pakistan, and he was on a list of the five most wanted militants believed to be in the country. The 47-year-old was sought in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, accused of slaughtering many Pakistanis, and suspected of aiding plots against Western targets.
It was unclear how Kashmiri was tracked down, but Pakistan and the U.S. recently agreed to jointly target him and a handful of other militant leaders as part of measures to repair relations badly strained by the unilateral May 2 raid, officials have said.
The Pakistani security official said Sunday that the weekend reports of Kashmiri's death were "95 percent confirmed," as authorities have checked with various sources. It's unlikely authorities will ever find the body to reach 100 percent certainty -- militants usually quickly dispose of colleagues' corpses.
Photographic evidence or DNA samples may help, but verifying the dead in drone strikes is generally difficult. Initial reports have turned out to be wrong in the past, including one in September 2009 that said Kashmiri had been killed.
A cell phone video taken by a local tribesman and obtained by The Associated Press shows several bodies in an orchard where the missiles are said to have exploded. One face was shown, that of a thinly bearded man, possibly in his 30s, but it was not clear if it was Kashmiri.
A purported photo of Kashmiri's body along with a statement confirming his death from a militant group were released over the weekend.
The photo shows the body of a clean-shaven man with short dark hair. The face looks bruised and battered, and the right eye is slightly open, but it is difficult to tell if it matches other pictures of Kashmiri. The militant is said to be missing a finger and blind in one eye.
The photo was posted along with the fax on a militant website, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi media. Journalists in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar also received the faxed statement.
The fax said it was from the Kashmiri-led Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami's feared "313 Brigade." It said Kashmiri was "martyred" in Friday's 11:15 p.m. strike close to Wana town in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border.
The statement and photo's authenticity could not be independently confirmed. The group, which has not previously communicated with the media, promised revenge against America in the handwritten statement on a white page bearing its name.
The U.S. relies heavily on the drone-fired missile strikes to go after militants hiding in Pakistan's tribal regions, but Islamabad officially opposes the drone-fired missile strikes as a violation of its sovereignty. Still, Pakistan is believed to have aided in at least some of the strikes in the past.
Pakistani officials have declined to say whether there was cooperation with the U.S. in Friday's strike. American and Pakistani officials speaking about Kashmiri all requested anonymity because of department policy and the subject's sensitivity.
Although considered to be one of al-Qaida's most accomplished terrorists, many analysts thought the fact that Kashmiri was not an Arab diminished his chances of taking bin Laden's place.