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Bomb attacks kill 24

At least 18 people were killed on Sunday in a bomb blast at a bakery in northwest Pakistan, police and government officials said, an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

world Updated: Jun 06, 2011 02:34 IST

Two separate bomb attacks killed 24 people in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, two days after a US drone strike which local officials have said likely killed a senior Al-Qaeda commander.

A bomb tore through a passenger vehicle at a bus terminal near the city of Peshawar -- the gateway to Pakistan's lawless tribal region on the Afghan border -- at around 9:00 am (0400 GMT), killing six people.

Around 12 hours later a second blast left 18 people dead at a packed bakery in the garrison town of Nowshera, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of Peshawar.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the first blast, but the Pakistani Taliban, which has carried out several bloody attacks to avenge the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said it was behind the second.

The attacks also came hard on the heels of Friday's US drone strike in South Waziristan, which local officials have claimed probably killed Pakistan's Al-Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the network's most feared operational leaders.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP the bakery blast sparked a huge fire, while local official Zakaullah Khattak said the death toll from the attack stood at 18, with 28 injured.

Nowshera bomb disposal squad chief Tanvir Ahmed said he believed the bakery attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.

He said officers had found what was thought to be the bomber's head at the blast site, along with ball bearings and steel pellets, though the Pakistani Taliban, who claimed the attack in a phone call to AFP, gave a different account.

"It was a remote-controlled bomb which was planted by our men," Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP in a phone call from an undisclosed location.

Nowshera police chief Abdullah Khan said the dead included three children.

The earlier attack in Matani, around 20 kilometres south of Peshawar, left 11 people wounded in addition to the six killed, senior police officer Kalam Khan told AFP.

"It appears to be a remote-controlled bomb placed in a passenger vehicle waiting to leave for a rural area," Peshawar police chief Mohammad Ijaz said, adding that three other vehicles were also damaged.

He quoted witnesses as saying a man boarded the vehicle and left after leaving a package inside, telling people that he would be back soon.

Shortly afterwards a huge blast ripped through the vehicle. The casualties were mostly among the passengers, he added.

In the past, insurgents have killed members of anti-militant tribal militia known as lashkar, but Ijaz said no tribal elder was present at the time of Sunday's blast -- which involved five kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives -- and the identity of the target was not known.

Kashmiri has a US bounty of $5 million on his head and Pakistani officials said he was the target of Friday's drone strike, in which nine members of his banned group died.

The 47-year-old has been blamed for a string of high-profile attacks on Western targets, as well as in India and Pakistan.

Pakistan's rugged northwest tribal region is known as the country's premier stronghold of Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants, and bomb attacks are common.

The United States has long put pressure on Pakistan to mount a major air and ground offensive in North Waziristan, from where Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always maintained that any such operation would be of its own time and choosing, arguing that its 140,000 troops committed to the northwest are already too overstretched fighting militants posing a domestic threat.

More than 4,400 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks based in the tribal belt since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.