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A Taliban suicide bomber in Pakistan's restive northwest killed at least 11 members of a rival, pro-government militant group on Thursday. The attack highlights the complicated divisions among militant groups operating in Pakistan, some of which receive support from the government or the powerful intelligence agency.
The bomber killed at least 11 people and wounded 20 others, most of them members of a militant faction opposed to Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. South Waziristan is a stronghold of Mr. Mehsud's movement.
The bomber struck at a hotel in the busy Jandola Bazar in Tank district of Dera Ismail Khan, as scores of anti-Taliban militants sat down for their meals, TV channels quoted officials as saying.
Officials said the roadside restaurant's visitors at the time included some two dozen militants opposed to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. They were members of the 'Turkestan Bittani' group. However, their leader was not in the group.
The Associated Press reports that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it revenge for the deaths of Taliban fighters killed in clashes last year with Turkestan Bittani.
US and Pakistani forces have turned up the heat on Mehsud, killing seven Arab militants in a South Waziristan drone attack on Wednesday, as well as putting a $5 million bounty on his head, the news service reports.
Also on Thursday, Qatar-based Al Jazeera reports that a possible US drone attack in neighboring North Waziristan killed four people linked to "militant tribal elder Malik Gulab Khan." Some Pakistani officials deny such an attack took place.
Meanwhile, in the adjoining region of North Waziristan, intelligence officials said four people were killed after a suspected US drone aircraft fired two missiles into a house outside the town of Mir Ali.
"Two missiles fired from a suspected US drone hit the compound of a local pro-militant tribal elder Malik Gulab Khan, killing four residents," a local security official told the AFP news agency.
Other Pakistani officials, however, denied there had been an attack.
"There was no missile strike," said Habibullah Khan, an administration official in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, of which North Waziristan is a part.
Residents of Mir Ali said they had heard an explosion in a house, but they had no details about possible casualties."
But as the US tries to tighten the noose on Mehsud and the Taliban, the relationships between different militant groups and elements of the Pakistani state have proved to be a stumbling block.
In particular, there is evidence that the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, continues to maintain ties with Taliban elements currently active in southern Afghanistan, reports The New York Times. In the past, ISI has promised to sever these ties.
In a report published Wednesday, the Times identifies the S Wing of the Pakistani intelligence service as the source of "money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders" who are fighting international forces in southern Afghanistan.
Little is publicly known about the ISI's S Wing, which officials say directs intelligence operations outside Pakistan. American officials said that the S Wing provided direct support to three major groups carrying out attacks in Afghanistan: the Taliban based in Quetta, Pakistan, commanded by Mullah Muhammad Omar; the militant network run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and a different group run by the guerrilla leader Jalaluddin Haqqani.
The Times quotes Congressional testimony by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, who says Pakistan "draws distinctions" between militant groups useful to the Islamabad regime and those that threaten it.
On the one hand are groups like the Haqqani network, which bombed India's Kabul embassy last summer. It is considered "a strategic asset" to Pakistan, says the Times, and as such its operations in Afghanistan have received ISI support. That is in sharp contrast to Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban, which seeks to overthrow the government of Pakistan.
"There are some they [Pakistan] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don't constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone," Mr. Blair said.