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Pakistan army ‘retaliates’ after 20 soldiers killed in bomb attack PM condemns attack, cancels Davos visit

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 19, (AFP): Pakistan army helicopters fired missiles killing three militants on Sunday, officials said, in apparent retaliation for a Taleban bomb attack that killed 20 soldiers in the restive northwest. The helicopters fired at a road in the village of Musaki situated in the same tribal region as the bombing earlier Sunday, intelligence and civil administration officials said. One of the missiles struck a nearby house, killing a five-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy, a local administration official added, although security officials could not confirm the civilian casualties. The bombing earlier Sunday, claimed by the Pakistani Taleban, killed 20 soldiers and wounded 30 when it ripped through a military convoy.

The attack, one of the deadliest to hit Pakistani security forces in recent years, happened in the city of Bannu near the North Waziristan tribal region which is a stronghold of militants linked to the Taleban and al-Qaeda. “A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device caused the blast,” a senior military official told AFP, adding the exact circumstances were unclear. An official statement said 20 soldiers were killed and 30 injured in the attack, which hit one of the vehicles in the convoy at 8:45 am.

The convoy was about to leave for the town of Razmak in North Waziristan when the blast hit one of the civilian vehicles hired to move troops. Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the convoy bombing. “It was part of our fight against a secular system,” he said by telephone from an undisclosed location. “We will carry out more such attacks in future,” he said, adding the Taleban were seeking revenge for the deaths of their former chief Hakimullah Mehsud and deputy Waliur Rehman — both killed in US drone attacks.

The Taleban vowed they would not engage in any dialogue with the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif following the death of Mehsud. But Shahid told AFP Sunday the group “is ready for meaningful negotiations despite facing huge leadership losses, if the government proves its authority and sincerity” by halting drone attacks and withdrawing troops from tribal areas.

Taleban insurgents have led a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state since 2007, staging hundreds of attacks on security forces and government targets. An eyewitness told AFP by telephone the vehicle hit by Sunday’s bomb was transformed into scorched metal. “I collected human remains including hands and legs from the site after the attack,” he said on condition of anonymity. Body parts and soldiers’ personal belongings littered the scene.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, adding he would cancel a planned visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in the wake of a recent spike in terrorism. “Our nation is united against extremism and terrorism and the sacrifices rendered by our citizens and personnel of law enforcing agencies will not go in vain,” he said, according to a statement by his office.

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