A pair of suicide bombers yesterday attacked recruits leaving a paramilitary training center in Pakistan, killing 80 people in the first retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden by US commandos. The Taliban claimed responsibility, blaming the Pakistani military for failing to stop the US raid.
The blasts in the northwest were a reminder of the savagery of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan. They occurred even as the country faces international suspicion that elements within its security forces may have been harboring bin Laden, who was killed last week in a raid in Abbottabad, about a three hours’ drive from the scene of the bombing.
“We have done this to avenge the Abbottabad incident,” Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said by telephone.
He warned that the group was also planning attacks on Americans living inside Pakistan.
The bombers blew themselves up in Shabqadar at the main gate of the facility for the Frontier Constabulary, a poorly equipped, but front-line force in the battle against al-Qaeda and allied Islamist groups like the Pakistani Taliban close to the Afghan border. Like other branches of Pakistan’s security forces, it has received US funding to try to sharpen its skills.
At least 80 people were killed, including 66 recruits, and about 120 people were wounded, police officer Liaqat Ali Khan said.
About 900 young men were leaving the center after spending six months of training there. They were in high spirits and looking forward to seeing their families, for which some had brought gifts, a survivor said.
Some people were sitting inside public minivans and others were loading luggage atop the vehicles when the bombers struck, witnesses said.
“We were heading toward a van when the first blast took place and we fell on the ground and then there was another blast,” 21-year-old Rehmanullah Khan said. “We enjoyed our time together, all the good and bad weather and I cannot forget the cries of my friends before they died.”
The scene was littered with shards of glass mixed with blood and flesh. The explosions destroyed at least 10 vans.
It was the first major militant attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death on May 2, and the deadliest this year.
Militants had pledged to avenge the killing and launch reprisal strikes in Pakistan.
The Taliban spokesman suggested that the attack was aimed as punishment against Pakistani authorities for failing to stop the unilateral US raid that killed bin Laden, something that has sparked popular nationalist and Islamist anger.