80 killed as Taliban 'avenge bin Laden'
  • | AFP | May 14, 2011 09:02 AM

Pakistan\'s Taliban claimed their first major attack to avenge Osama bin Laden\'s death as 80 people were killed in a double suicide bombing on a paramilitary police training centre Friday.

An elderly Pakistani man (2nd L) helps a wounded blast victim (L) from a van as other survivors look on after arriving at a hospital in Peshawar.

Around 140 people were wounded, 40 of them critically, in the blasts -- the deadliest attack this year in the nuclear-armed country where the government is in crisis over the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief by US forces.

In the fallout over the unilateral raid and in another sign of damaged ties with wary ally Washington, an official said Pakistan\'s senior military officer General Khalid Shameem Wynne had cancelled a visit to the United States.

Pakistan has vowed to review intelligence cooperation after the embarrassing raid on its territory and the revelation that bin Laden had been living less than a mile from a military academy, prompting claims of official collusion.

But the United States said Friday it had been granted access to the Al-Qaeda leader\'s widows after it asked Islamabad to help counter growing mistrust by allowing US interrogators to question the three women found in his compound.

"The United States has gained access to Osama bin Laden\'s wives held by Pakistan," White House spokesman Jay Carney said, without offering further details.

CNN earlier reported that US intelligence agents had questioned the women, who were apprehended in the May 2 raid and then taken into Pakistani custody.

It said they were interviewed as a group despite Washington\'s desire to question them separately, and were openly "hostile" to the US officials.

Friday\'s explosions detonated in northwest Pakistan as newly-trained paramilitary cadets, dressed in civilian clothes, were getting into buses for a 10-day leave, police said.

"This was the first revenge for Osama\'s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Under Hakimullah Mehsud, who replaced Baitullah Mehsud as leader of the group after he was killed by a US missile in 2009, the Pakistani Taliban has been seen as increasingly inspired by Al-Qaeda in waging mass-casualty attacks.

The bombers blew themselves up in Shabqadar, outside the biggest Frontier Constabulary (FC) training centre in the northwest.

The town is close to Mohmand, which is in the lawless tribal belt that Washington has branded the headquarters of Al-Qaeda and where CIA drones carry out missile strikes on Taliban and other Islamist militant commanders.

Gul Momin, his leg in plaster, recalled the horror when the explosions turned a festive Friday morning into a bloodbath.

"We had been very happy," he said. "I was loading my bag into the bus when the blast took place. I was seriously injured but wasn\'t knocked out. I crawled towards a safe place, then I heard another huge blast.

"Everybody was lying on the ground and crying. I saw people lying in blood and dying. There were dead bodies and body parts. I can\'t put it into words."

Bashir Ahmed Bilour, senior minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said 80 people had been killed, including 69 FC men, making it the deadliest attack in Pakistan since July 9, 2010, when bombers killed 105 people in Mohmand.

The United States condemned what it called a "heinous" attack and said it underlined the need for the two countries to co-operate against terrorism.

"It only highlights the existential threat that these kind of extremist organizations pose for Pakistan, and underscores why it\'s so important that we continue to work together both on defeating and dismantling Al-Qaeda as well as its affiliates," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The Pakistani government condemned the blasts, as did Britain and the United Nations.

Doctors in Peshawar\'s main Lady Reading hospital said they were struggling to save the lives of more than 40 critically wounded paramilitary policemen and had declared a state of emergency to cope with the scale of the casualties.

"Both attacks were suicide attacks. The first suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and detonated his vest among the Frontier Constabulary men," said the police chief of the Charsadda district, Nisar Khan Marwat.

"When other FC people came to the rescue to help their colleagues, the second bomber came on another motorcycle and blew himself up."

Later Friday, a US drone fired two missiles into a vehicle in Pakistan\'s tribal district of North Waziristan, killing at least three militants in a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold, officials said.

Five NATO oil tankers carrying fuel for international troops in Afghanistan were meanwhile destroyed when a bomb planted beneath one of them exploded, starting a fire, as they were parked at a terminal in Khyber province.

The Taliban last week threatened to attack security forces to avenge bin Laden\'s killing in a US helicopter raid north of the capital Islamabad.

There has been little public protest in support of bin Laden in a country where more people have been killed in bomb attacks in the past four years than the nearly 3,000 who died in Al-Qaeda\'s September 11, 2001 strikes on the US.

But under growing domestic pressure to punish Washington for the bin Laden raid, Pakistan\'s civilian government said Thursday it would review counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States.

It was unclear if the move was intended as a threat, but it showed the extent of the task facing US Senator John Kerry as he prepares to embark on a mission to shore up badly strained ties with Washington\'s fractious ally.

Pakistanis have been outraged at the perceived impunity of the US raid, while asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was living close to a major forces academy, or, worse, conspired to protect him.

Washington is pressing Islamabad to investigate how bin Laden and several of his wives and children managed to live for five years under the noses of its military in Abbottabad, just 40 miles (65 kilometres) north of the capital.

New footage of the 40-minute raid on the high-walled compound has emerged according to CBS News, which said the SEALs had tiny helmet-mounted cameras.

US officials who saw the footage said commandos fired at bin Laden when he appeared on a third floor landing, but missed and he retreated into a bedroom.

The first SEAL entered the room and pulled aside bin Laden\'s daughters, while a second commando was confronted by one of his wives who either rushed him or was pushed in his direction, said CBS.

According to the report, that second commando pushed the wife away and fired a round into bin Laden\'s chest, while a third shot bin Laden in the head.