ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A suicide bomber attacked a military convoy near the Afghan border on Saturday, killing at least 24 Pakistani soldiers as thousands of troops deployed to thwart a call for an anti-government holy war.
Twenty-nine troops were also wounded in the attack, one of the deadliest suicide bombings in Pakistan in recent months, said Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad. Elsewhere in the border region, Islamic militants detonated a roadside bomb and fired rockets on a military base.
The escalating violence along the frontier, a haven for Pakistani and foreign extremists, follows the government’s bloody attack on Islamabad’s Red Mosque which sparked calls for revenge from radical groups.
Pakistani commandos overran the mosque Wednesday, ending an eight-day siege with a hard-line cleric and his militant supporters. More than 100 died during the standoff.
With Saturday’s suicide attack in North Waziristan, at least 53 people have been killed in bombings and shootings in the north since the Red Mosque crisis began July 3.
Although no one claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, Arshad said he could not rule out the possibility that it was a reaction to the assault on the mosque.
Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric with close links to the outlawed Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, has told supporters to prepare for jihad against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for the assault, the official said.
Fazlullah has pressed for Taliban-style rule in Pakistan – much like the leaders of the Red Mosque.
“With help from local tribal elders, we are trying to ensure that militants lay down their arms and stop issuing calls for jihad against the government,” a senior military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Separately, in what police called a “foiled terrorist attempt,” two 11-pound anti-tank mines attached to a timing device and battery were found in a car in downtown Peshawar, said Abdul Majeed Marwat, police chief of the northwest’s largest city.
The car was parked in a crowded area in front of a military-affiliated bank when a small explosion and fire in the vehicle alerted authorities. Police speculated the timing device may have been misconnected.
In the northwest, meanwhile, an army brigade was heading up the Swat Valley, 75 miles northeast of Peshawar, where a suicide car bomber killed three policeman at a checkpoint Thursday, said Mohammed Javed, the valley’s top administrator.
No new troops were sent to North Waziristan, but a spokesman for militants demanded that all existing checkpoints be removed there by Sunday.
Abdullah Farhad, who claims to speak for pro-Taliban militants, told The Associated Press the checkpoints violated a 2006 peace accord between the government and tribal elders.
The peace deal is still in effect, but militants have again started attacking government forces in the region. The government has targeted some militant hideouts.