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Pakistan pounds suspected Taliban targets, kills 4

world Updated: Jul 03, 2009 12:30 IST

AP
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Pakistani warplanes bombed suspected militant hide-outs near the Afghan border early on Friday, killing at least four insurgents and wounding seven others, intelligence officials said.

The airstrikes hit targets in North Waziristan, where Taliban fighters killed 16 government troops in an ambush earlier this week, two intelligence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The fighting comes amid a government campaign against Taliban insurgents in North and South Waziristan, the lawless tribal region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan where top Taliban and al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.

On Thursday, bombs targeting police and employees of a nuclear facility killed two people and wounded scores, while a prominent militant commander in the northwest reportedly agreed to halt attacks on security forces there _ a move that could help the army in its efforts to eliminate the Taliban leadership in the region.

The attack on a bus carrying workers from Pakistan’s main nuclear facility took place in Rawalpindi, which lies next to the capital and is home to the headquarters of Pakistan’s military.

A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle slammed into the bus with employees of the Khan Research Laboratories, wounding 29 people, senior police official Rana Shahid said.

An AP reporter saw pieces of a charred motorbike lying on the ground, as well as a damaged bus, car and van. Shattered glass and twisted metal littered the road.

Taxi driver Mohammed Ejaz said he saw a young man dressed with a black scarf around his neck revving his motorcycle on the side of the road. “Within moments he zigzagged his way to the bus, and then there was a huge explosion,” Ejaz said.

The second attack took place near Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, where a roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded five more, police official Ghayoor Afridi said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for either blast, but a series of attacks in recent months have been carried out by Islamist militants with roots in the lawless border regions near Afghanistan.

Earlier on Thursday, Maulvi Nazir, a powerful militant chieftain in the frontier region of South Waziristan, declared a cease-fire against security forces, government official Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah said. The terms of the deal were not made public.

“This is a good sign for peace,” Shah said, adding tribal elders would be responsible for ensuring peace in the area, which includes the region’s main town of Wana.

Ameer Gulstan, one of the 120 tribal elders who met with Nazir, and intelligence officials also confirmed the meeting.

The announcement could mean the government was succeeding in efforts to isolate head of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who is blamed for a string of suicide attacks across the country that have killed about 100 people in the past month.

Nazir was once considered a “pro-government” Taliban commander in that he directed his attention to fighting in Afghanistan. He switched sides in February when he struck a deal with Mehsud and other militants to attack US and Pakistani security forces to avenge missile attacks on Pakistan’s tribal regions.

Washington strongly supports Islamabad’s campaign against militants along the Afghan border, believing that it could help the US-led war against Taliban insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan.