By Phil Ittner
Pakistani officials say two bomb blasts at a training center for local security forces in the country’s northwest have killed at least 80 people and wounded scores of others. The Pakistani Taliban claim the attack is to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Local police say two suicide bombers used at least one motorcycle packed with explosives in an early morning attack in the town of Charsadda. The bombers detonated outside a regional base for Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary, a security force that receives U.S. funds to combat extremists near the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Most of the victims were cadets from the training base who were boarding buses to return home on leave. Other victims were in a nearby market.
Witnesses said many of the casualties occurred in the second blast, after people came to aid those injured in the initial explosion. At least one of the bombs contained ball bearings and nails to increase the damage.
Friday’s blast is the biggest attack since the U.S. raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Shortly after the bombing, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman called news agencies claiming responsibility and said the strike is a response to the death of Bin Laden.
In a press release, the United States Embassy condemned the attack and expressed respect for Pakistani sacrifices, saying that the United States will continue to stand with Pakistan in the fight against al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
Charsadda is near Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas where security forces are routinely attacked by militants. Regional Police officer Liaqat Ali Khan says he questions whether or not the attack on the Frontier Constabulary can be tied to a Bin Laden reprisal.
“There could be many angles to this aspect…this could be a reaction to Osamas but very little possibility and then this is part of the ongoing militancy,” he said.
Since the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, there have been widespread concerns in Pakistan that the country would be targeted in revenge attacks.
Pakistan and the United States have said that the U.S. assault that killed bin Laden did not involve Pakistani forces, nor were Pakistani authorities warned of the operation beforehand.
Public outrage over the American action has led many Pakistani leaders to call for a re-assessment of its military and political relationship with the United States. In Washington, some U.S. lawmakers have also called for a review of the partnership, based on suspicions that Pakistan could have done more to help locate the fugitive al-Qaida leader.
In Islamabad on Friday, defense officials from the Pakistani cabinet are meeting with Parliamentary members to discuss establishing a new defense strategy following the political fallout from the killing of bin Laden.