A suicide bomber linked to the Pakistani Taliban attacked soldiers during morning exercises at an army training camp in the northwest yesterday, killing 31 troops and wounding 42 others.
There were conflicting accounts about the identity of the bomber.
The army and police said he was a teenager in a school uniform, but the Pakistani Taliban claimed he was a soldier at the camp in Mardan who volunteered for the attack.
Senior police official Abdullah Khan said 31 soldiers died and about 42 were wounded, some critically. The army, which tends to release information much slower, put the death toll in an earlier statement at 20.
An examination of the body parts at the scene indicated the bomber was a teenage boy, which is a common finding in suicide bombings in Pakistan, Khan said.
The army also confirmed he was a teenager in school uniform, but Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said by telephone that the bomber was a soldier in Mardan who approached them and said “he wanted to sacrifice his life for Islam.”
“We accepted his offer and told him to target his fellow soldiers in Mardan,” Ahsan said.
Former army soldiers have been suspected in attacks in Pakistan, but a suicide bombing by an active duty soldier would be rare, if not unheard of.
The army has staged multiple offensives in Pakistan’s northwest aimed at taking out the Pakistani Taliban in recent years. Its efforts against the group, which is distinct from, but linked to, the Afghan Taliban, appear to have been largely successful — but violence persists.
The US has encouraged Pakistan to eliminate the Pakistani Taliban in the belief that the long-term stability of the nuclear-armed Muslim nation is critical to global security.
Washington also wants Islamabad to take out militants who focus on fighting the US and NATO in Afghanistan, but who have bases on Pakistani soil, in particular in the North Waziristan tribal region, but Pakistan has yet to mount an offensive in that area.
In North Waziristan yesterday, the bullet-riddled bodies of two tribal police officials and a villager were discovered along an open road near the town of Mir Ali, a militant stronghold. A note attached to the bodies accused them of acting as spies for the US, resident Asif Iqbal said.
Intelligence officials said the three men had been kidnapped last month. Their bodies showed signs of torture, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.