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At least 19 were killed in Pakistan today when a suicide bomber attacked a security post near the Afghan border. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retaliation for the death of Al Qaeda commander Sheik Marwan, who was killed by local security forces there in 2011.
The attack targeted the head and deputy head of a security force made up of local Pashtuns, known as Bajaur Levies, The New York Times reports. The two men were visiting the area – a crossroads in the capital of Bajaur district, Khar, near the market – to check on reports of a possible attack. Some 57 people were wounded. Pakistan's GeoNews puts the death toll at 22.
Agence France-Presse reports that Bajaur has been "one of the toughest battlegrounds" in Pakistan's efforts to dislodge the Taliban from its northwestern provinces. Today's attack was the third bombing in two days in the district, with two yesterday killed pro-government elders and local security personnel.
The whole country has been on a high state of alert since May 1, driven by concerns about retaliatory attacks on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing, according to AFP.
CBS/Associated Press report that in the batch of documents from Osama bin Laden's compound that were made public yesterday, Mr. bin Laden expressed concern about the number of civilians who were being killed by Pakistani militants.
In the statement, spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said that among the security force targets was one man who had received an award for killing many militants. It was a "warning" to "people who are involved in any type of activity against the Taliban that we are aware of them and they will be treated with iron hands," Mr. Ihsan said.
But while the attack was ostensibly in retaliation for the killing of an Al Qaeda figure, the way it was carried out may not have been pleasing to Osama bin Laden's group. Despite strong links between Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, recently released papers found at bin Laden's compound "shed light on Al Qaeda’s frustration with the Pakistani Taliban’s indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilian targets within Pakistan," the Los Angeles Times reports.
One letter, written by two Al Qaeda leaders and sent to Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mahsud, criticized the Pakistani militant leader for dispatching suicide bombers to “marketplaces, mosques, roads and assembly places….We hope that you will take the necessary action to correct your actions and avoid these grave mistakes.”
The NYT reports that Bajaur has been calm, particularly in comparison to more southern North and South Waziristan, where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants have established havens from which they can stage attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan. The last major militant attack in Bajaur was in December 2010.
The Pakistani Army has been deployed in the region since 2008 as part of an operation to oust Faqir Muhammad, a former local leader of the Pakistani Taliban who was forced to flee to Afghanistan. He has since been replaced in Bajaur.
The Pakistani government says that more than 30,000 people have been killed in attacks across Pakistan in the past decade – 10 times the almost 3,000 people who perished in Sept.11.