ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Islamic extremists attacked two marketplaces and two police posts yesterday in northwest Pakistan, killing at least eight civilians and six soldiers. They also took responsibility for a deadly vehicle bombing Wednesday in Lahore, and threatened more attacks in major cities throughout the Punjab heartland, police said.
The assaults and threats appear to be motivated by revenge for the military's advances in its offensive to recapture the Swat Valley in the North West Frontier Province from Taliban extremists.
Police said the extremists had packed the explosives on two motorcycles, which they parked at crowded marketplaces in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier and a key city on a main supply route for U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
After detonating the explosives, the extremists fought police in gun battles that ended with two militants killed and at least one arrested.
There were separate bomb attacks on a security checkpoint outside Peshawar, in which five soldiers were killed. And in Dera Ismail Khan, 150 miles south of Peshawar, a suicide bomber rammed a three-wheeler taxi into a police checkpoint, killing one police officer and two civilians, police officer Bahawal Khan said.
The violence followed a gun and bomb assault Wednesday in the eastern city of Lahore that killed at least 30 people and wounded 250. The Pakistani Taliban yesterday claimed responsibility for that attack, which targeted the offices of the Pakistan military's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and destroyed a police complex.
Hakimullah Mehsud, who commands Pakistani Taliban in three tribal agencies along the Afghan border, warned that the Lahore attack was only a taste of things to come.
"We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to leave those cities, as we plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days and weeks," he told the Reuters news agency yesterday.
Those cities are in Punjab province, the heart of Pakistan, which makes up 60 percent of the country's population and much of its industry and agriculture. Until now, the Punjab had been shielded from the worst of the violence. Destabilizing it could push the nuclear-armed nation into chaos.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to the main leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is thought to be the main organizer of attacks on U.S. supply convoys to Afghanistan.
Under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an operation late last month to drive marauding Taliban guerrillas out of the Swat Valley and adjoining areas in the North West Frontier Province.
The Swat Taliban is part of the umbrella Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan movement, which has links with jihadist groups across the North West Frontier and Punjab provinces.
The government yesterday offered a $60,000 bounty for the capture, alive or dead, of Maulana Fazlullah, the chief of the Swat Taliban, and smaller amounts for 20 other Taliban leaders.
"Since they [the Taliban] are being defeated, they are trying to take it out on innocent people," said Mian Iftikhar, the information minister of the North West Frontier Province government.
Separately, the Pakistani army reported that it had taken control of about 70 percent of Mingora, the main city in Swat, and said the city would be cleared of insurgents within three days. The army is charging through Swat at a pace that has surprised some experts.
Pakistani forces moved into Mingora, a Taliban stronghold in the south of the valley, on Saturday. Brig. Gen. Tahir Hamid said the military had killed 286 militants in and around the sprawling city.
"Control of the city was taken back from the miscreants," Hamid said.
U.S.-led coalition troops attacked a suspected training camp for foreign fighters in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. An Afghan official said 34 militants were killed.
The raid on the compound in Paktika province, on the Afghan border with Pakistan, was a reminder that the rugged region is a breeding ground for Islamist fighters.
Insurgents use such areas as a base for operations to launch attacks on Western troops.
At least six insurgents wearing suicide vests blew themselves up during the battle, the U.S. military said.
Afghan authorities said that 22 Arabs and Pakistanis were among the 34 militants killed.
In southern Afghanistan, a NATO soldier was killed in a roadside bomb blast. No details were given.
- Associated Press