MINGORA, PAKISTAN // An apparent suicide bombing near a bus terminal in Pakistan's Swat Valley killed five people and wounded at least 58 today, officials said, a sign that militants remain active in the north-west region despite a massive army operation. The explosion went off around noon in Mingora, the main town in a one-time tourist haven that was largely overrun by Taliban militants in 2007.
Pakistani TV footage showed vehicles bent and twisted due to the force of the blast. Some men were desperately trying to open the doors of a car to reach a woman and man sitting in the front who were bloodied and appeared unconscious. The vicinity was crowded, so the death toll could rise significantly. Senior police official Qazi Ghulam Farooq said five people died, including two women, and that officials believed a suicide bomber was involved. At least 58 people were wounded, he said.
The Pakistan military launched its biggest operation against the Taliban in Swat in 2009 after a failed attempt at a peace deal that included pledges to impose Islamic law in the area. The operation forced some two million people to flee, but after a few months, the army said it had taken control and many of the refugees returned home. Still, violence has occasionally flared in Swat, shaking people's confidence. A handful of targeted killings of anti-Taliban elders in particular has worried those who fear the insurgents are staging a comeback in the valley.
In recent weeks, several major suicide attacks have shaken Pakistan. Last week, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Mohmand tribal region, killing at least 102 people in the deadliest attack in the nation this year. The attacks come as Washington is pushing Pakistan to do even more to root out militant groups that use its soil to plan attacks on Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The US has also launched more than 100 missile strikes against Taliban and al Qa'eda fighters in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal area along the Afghan border. The attacks have been especially frequent in north Waziristan, the home base of the al Qa'eda-linked group led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Siraj. One Thursday evening, three suspected US missiles destroyed a house in north Waziristan's Mada Khel area, killing five people and wounding two, said two intelligence officials on the condition of anonymity.
Militants have responded to the strikes by assassinating tribesmen whom they accuse of spying, including two men whose bodies were found today in the Datta Khel area of north Waziristan, said an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media. The bodies were accompanied by notes saying they were killed for spying on the Taliban, he said.