14 police recruits killed in Swat

MINGORA: A suicide bomber killed at least 14 police recruits Sunday in Pakistan's Swat Valley in the deadliest attack since the army regained control over the northwestern valley from the Taliban, officials said.

The blast in the yard of the police station in Mingora, Swat's main town, came one day after the army said it had destroyed a major training camp for suicide bombers. It indicated that while the Taliban's hard-line Islamist rule may be over in the valley, life is far from normal even as hundreds of thousands of residents who fled the fighting are returning.

Volunteers for a new community police force were holding their daily drills in the yard adjacent to the station when the attacker detonated his explosives, local government administrator Atifur Rehman told The Associated Press.

Authorities were investigating reports the attacker — possibly in uniform — may have hidden among the dozens of recruits, he said.

"Initial investigations suggest the attacker climbed the small boundary wall and blew himself up, but there is also a report the suicide bomber was already inside," Rehman said.

Investigators sifted through the blackened wreckage in the courtyard littered with body parts, shredded uniforms and police berets.

At least 14 bodies of uniformed recruits were brought to the local hospital and eight wounded recruits were being treated, hospital official Ikram Khan told The Associated Press.

Local police chief Idrees Khan said at least 20 were wounded and a dozen killed. Speaking on local television, he denied rumors that the bomber was wearing a uniform and might have been one of the police volunteers.

He blamed the attack on a decision to relax a daily curfew in the area for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Police blocked roads around the area soon after the midday blast. Local markets quickly shuttered and authorities ordered residents to stay inside.

Pakistan's army says it is restoring security in Swat and surrounding areas after a three-month military offensive wrested the valley back from Taliban control, but suicide attacks and skirmishes continue.

"After the massive operation in Swat such incidents are expected," Hussain said.

On Saturday, the army said helicopter gunships had destroyed a training camp outside Mingora that it said was responsible for most of the recent suicide attacks.

The army's offensive in Swat — begun in April — was its largest in years after periodic peace deals with the hard-line Islamists. The Taliban's takeover of Swat, a former tourist enclave, had become a symbol of their expansion in the nuclear-armed country.

In July, the military declared victory in Swat and the surrounding areas cleared of militants except for small pockets of resistance.

The Pakistani Taliban have vowed revenge after the loss of Swat and the death of their top leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a CIA missile strike Aug. 5 further west near the Afghan border.

Another suicide bombing Thursday killed at least 19 guards at the Torkham border checkpoint, one of the main crossing points for NATO supplies for the war against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. About 75 percent of fuel and ammunition for the U.S. and its allies comes through Pakistan.

The Torkham checkpoint reopened the next day, but on Sunday another main gateway to Afghanistan was closed amid an administrative dispute.

Hundreds of trucks were backed up near the Chaman border, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, Pakistani police officer Abdur Rauf said. He said Afghan customs officials closed the border on Saturday in retaliation for inspections of Afghan trucks carrying grapes and pomegranates by Pakistani customs.

"About 700 out of more than 1,000 lined up are carrying supply for NATO forces," Rauf said. "We have to put a lot of effort to protect these trucks."