PESHAWAR, Pakistan – PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber killed the head of a U.S.-backed paramilitary police force battling militants in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, one of the highest-ranking security officers ever assassinated in the country.
The bombing in Peshawar that killed Sifwat Ghayur, the head of the 25,000-strong Frontier Constabulary, was the first attack since monsoon rains triggered massive flooding over a week ago. The northwest city often targeted by the Taliban had been calm recently, but renewed violence could further strain a government already struggling with the flood relief effort.
The bomber detonated his explosives next to Ghayur's car in the center of Peshawar after waiting at a traffic light for the vehicle to approach, said the police chief's driver, Shakirullah Khan, who was injured in the attack.
"I stopped the car at a traffic light," said Khan, who was driving Ghayur home from the office. "While my boss was sitting in the left front seat, I saw a young boy move from the sidewalk toward our car and in no time a huge explosion took place and our car was in flames."
The explosion engulfed several vehicles, killing the police chief and three bodyguards, said Mohammad Haris Khan, a senior police officer. The attack also injured 11 people, he said.
Rescue workers frantically tried to extinguish the blaze in the minutes after the attack but were unable to save Ghayur, whose body was plastered to his seat burned beyond recognition.
Another man killed in the attack was splayed on the sidewalk with his intestines spilling out and two severed legs beside him. The suspected suicide bomber's head was found in the street, severed cleanly from his body.
"We have lost a very brave and able official in this cowardly attack," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is the capital. "It doesn't mean the terrorists are gaining strength, but they have been beaten and are targeting those who are active in the war against terrorism."
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad also criticized the attack, saying it was "especially vicious as so many people in the region are struggling to recover from the deadly monsoon flooding."
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying they will continue to target government personnel and leaders of a key political party in the northwest who have been outspoken critics of the militants.
"This is our work," Azam Tariq told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location. "In the coming days, we will carry out more such attacks against leaders of the Awami National Party, marked people in the government and security forces and also security buildings."
The Frontier Constabulary is a paramilitary police force that is primarily drawn from the northwest and operates throughout the country in support of traditional police officers.
The U.S. has backed this fight with billions in aid given to Pakistan's security services, including to the Frontier Constabulary, according to a report last year by the Government Accountability Office.
It has worked with the army to battle the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in the country's semiautonomous tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan.
Peshawar is at the center of the conflict. It is the main city in the northwest, abuts the tribal regions and is just an hour's drive from the Afghan border. The city was hit by almost daily bombings last fall in retaliation for an army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban's main sanctuary in the South Waziristan tribal area. But it has been quiet in recent months.
Violence in the country, however, has not been confined to the northwest.
Extra troops were deployed to the southern city of Karachi on Wednesday after 13 more people were killed overnight in violence triggered by the assassination of a leading member of the city's ruling party, said government spokesman Jamil Soomro.
At least 58 people have died since politician Raza Haider was gunned down Monday night.
Authorities have revealed little about the identities of the dead or the nature of the killings, but the victims are believed to be members of rival political parties or ethnic groups.
Associated Press Writers Ashraf Khan in Karachi and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.