Twin suicide blasts miss top army officer target but kill 23 people in Pakistan

Taliban claim responsibility for attack, which killed wife of deputy head of local Frontier Corps.

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QUETTA, // A pair of suicide bombers attacked a top army officer in Pakistan's south-western city of Quetta yesterday, missing him but killing his wife. At least 22 others died, including several guards, a senior officer and two children.

Police said they were investigating whether the strike was in revenge for the recent arrests in Quetta of three top Al Qaeda suspects, which came about through a joint operation between Pakistani authorities and the CIA.

Within hours, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and a spokesman for the group said Brigadier Khurram Shahzad, the deputy head of the region's Frontier Corps, was targeted because of an incident several months ago that left five people dead at a checkpoint in the city.

In yesterday's blasts, the first attacker detonated his vehicle next to a group of Frontier Corps officers close to Brigadier Shahzad's house. Amid a flurry of grenades, the second attacker stormed the house and blew himself up inside it, said Naseer Ahmed Kurd, a police officer.

Another police officer, Hamid Shakil said that in addition to the deaths, more than 60 were injured in the attack.

Two of the dead were children travelling in a rickshaw. A colonel in the corps was also killed, he said.

Mr Shakil said one of the suicide bombers was carrying an identity card showing him to be a 21-year-old Afghan refugee.

The bombing came just days after Monday's disclosure of the arrests of the three Al Qaeda suspects in the city. The Pakistan army statement about the arrests had revealed CIA involvement - a sign of improving relations between two uneasy anti-terror allies after the rancour surrounding Osama bin Laden's killing.

American officials praised the operation, saying the detention of Younis Al Mauritani, the most senior militant captured, was a significant achievement.

"This attack was maybe in reaction to the recent arrests, but we are investigating," Mr Shakil said of yesterday's blasts.

Pakistan did not say when Mr Al Mauritani and the two other Al Qaeda operatives were arrested, but a US official claimed the arrest took place in the past two weeks.

The announcement about the co-operation between the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency appeared aimed at reversing the widespread perception that ties had been badly damaged by bin Laden's death.

Pakistani accused the Americans of violating its sovereignty with the bin Laden raid, while Washington was angry the terror leader had been found in a house in a military garrison town in Pakistan.

Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, on Tuesday praised Pakistan for Al Mauritani's arrest.

"It's a tribute to the Pakistanis, who worked with us on this effort to be able to go after him," Mr Panetta told reporters, adding that he assumed the US will ask the Pakistani authorities for permission to interrogate the suspect.