Violence spreads across Pakistan border belt

Suspected militants bombed a van carrying prisoners in northwest Pakistan, killing at least nine people.

Suspected militants bombed a van carrying prisoners in northwest Pakistan today, killing at least nine people, as fighting between security forces and extremists flared across the country's tribal belt. The violence came just over a week after longtime US ally Pervez Musharraf resigned as president, triggering a scramble for power that collapsed Pakistan's governing coalition. The party long led by slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is now in a position to dominate the government and it is toughening its stance against Islamist extremists.

The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly bold, claiming responsibility for a wave of suicide bombings and gun attacks. No one immediately claimed responsibility for today's attack, though police said militants were the likely culprit. It occurred as a van carrying prisoners crossed a bridge in Bannu, a town in the North West Frontier Province, said Waqas Ahmad, an area police chief.

The dead included police officers and prisoners, said Jalil Khan, another police official, but he could not provide an exact breakdown. Hours earlier, security forces drove off a Taliban attack on a fort and pounded another band of militants holed up in a health centre, officials said yesteray as fighting spread to new areas in the tribal belt along the Afghan border. As many as 49 insurgents were reported killed in separate attacks. Pakistan's five-month-old government initially sought to calm militant violence by holding peace talks. However the initiatives have borne little fruit, and US officials have been pressing for tougher action against insurgent groups blamed for rising violence across the border in Afghanistan and in cities further inland. * AP

Published: August 28, 2008 04:00 AM

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