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At least 18 killed in suicide attack in NW Pakistan: officials

world Updated: Aug 27, 2009 22:45 IST

At least 18 policemen were killed in a suicide attack on Thursday in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region, near the Afghan border, officials said. The attack took place in the Khyber tribal region while the policemen were gathering to break their Ramadan fast.

"It was a suicide attack, which killed at least 18 policemen and wounded eight others," top local administration official Tariq Hayat told AFP. He said that the attacker blew himself up in the police residential barracks in Torkham, a town near the Afghan border.

A senior administration official, Rehan Gul Khattak, said, "authorities have found head of the bomber at the site of the attack."

A security official in the area also confirmed the attack and the number of casualties. A local administration official, Naeem Afridi, said he feared the death toll would rise, adding that "vehicles of local administration are shifting the injured and dead bodies to a local hospital."

The attack came hours after a US missile strike in Kaniguram, a village in the South Waziristan tribal region, killed at least four militants. Washington alleges Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels who fled Afghanistan after the 2001 US-led invasion are holed up in the semi-autonomous tribal belt.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in a series of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in the country during the lpast two years. Pakistan's northwest and tribal areas have been wracked by violence since hundreds of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters sought refuge there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Pakistan in April launched a punishing military offensive against the Taliban in the northwest, targeting the rebels in the districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir after militants advanced closer to the capital Islamabad.

Swat slipped out of government control after radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah mounted a violent campaign in which his followers beheaded opponents, burnt schools and fought against government troops to enforce sharia law.

Pakistan says more than 1,930 militants and over 170 security personnel have been killed in the offensive, but the death tolls are impossible to verify independently. Pakistani authorities have also advocated establishing local militia in the region to try to keep the Taliban at bay, amid reports that the Islamist fighters have simply melted into the mountains to regroup.

The military, which last month claimed to have cleared the area of Taliban, has now turned to the lawless tribal belt, the heartland of Pakistan's umbrella organisation Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda. But skirmishes still continue in Swat and Buner, raising fears that the Taliban are regrouping in the mountains, a tactic militants have adopted after offensives in the past.