By Uaz Mohammad for The Associated Press
A Taliban suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically important town in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 17 police and civilians in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes.
About 40 people were wounded in the attack in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road between Punjab province, Pakistan’s largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions.
A Pakistani army offensive pushed many militants out of South Waziristan in October. The militants still control much of North Waziristan, where U.S. drone aircraft have been conducting a campaign of targeted killings.
Hours after the attack, officials said a suspected U.S. missile strike had killed three alleged militants in North Waziristan, home to the Haqqani network, a militant group battling U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press that a missile hit a vehicle in the Datta Khel area on the Afghan border Monday evening. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information
In Lakki Marwat, rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.
Police official Liaquat Ali said 45 police were in the building when the bomber struck.
“I said my morning prayers and we went to sleep, then suddenly there was a big bang. All the debris fell on us,” police official Ikramullah Khan told The Associated Press from a bed in a nearby hospital, where many of the wounded lay wailing in pain as relatives comforted each other.
Emergency workers and local residents used cranes to move the rubble of the mostly destroyed police station. Books and a schoolbag could be seen in the wreckage and the twisted frames of a motorcycle and a car sat nearby. A neighborhood shop and mosque also were partly destroyed.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they targeted the police for encouraging residents to set up militias to fight the militants – known locally as lashkars. The group pledged to carry out additional attacks unless the militias disbanded.
“After the police, we will attack those active in forming anti-Taliban lashkars if they have not given up their activities,” Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The police chief of Lakki Marwat district was killed in a suicide bombing several months ago and militants have carried out a string of attacks in the area since then.
In recent days, militants have launched attacks across the nation aimed at destabilizing the country and weakening a civilian government already struggling with a massive flooding that has displaced millions and caused widespread destruction.
The deadliest have targeted minority Shiite Muslims. A suicide bombing killed at least 43 Shiite Muslims at a procession in the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday. Two days earlier, a triple suicide attack killed 35 people at a Shiite ceremony in the eastern city of Lahore.
Both were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, whose commander Qari Hussain Mehsud threatened Friday that his group would wage imminent attacks in the U.S. and Europe.
On the same day, Pakistani intelligence officials said two suspected U.S. missile strikes had killed at least seven people in North Waziristan, which is largely controlled by the Haqqani network, one of the main groups battling Americans in neighboring Afghanistan.