A suicide bomber killed 35 Pakistani soldiers at an army training ground Wednesday in an attack the military said was linked to a bloody army assault on a militant camp last week.
The blast, the most serious militant attack on the Pakistani military since it joined the US-led war on terrorism, took place in the town of Dargai, in North West Frontier Province.
It came nine days after security forces attacked a madrasa, or religious school, in a nearby tribal area, killing 80 people, the biggest number of suspected militants killed in an assault.
"The bomber wrapped a chadar (cloak) around his body and came running into the training area and exploded himself where recruits had gathered for training," a military official said.
Pakistan has been battling militants in its northwest over the past few years. Hundreds of militants and members of the security forces have been killed.
A prominent journalist in the area, Rahimullah Yusufzai, said he got a call from a man saying "Pakistani Taliban" carried out the attack in revenge for the October 30 raid on the madrasa.
The caller did not identify himself but said the bomber had taped a statement that would soon be released, Yusufzai said.
Dargai, 130 kilometers northwest of the capital Islamabad, is a stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law) militant group.
The group, which backs Afghanistan's Taliban, was banned by the government in 2002.
Last week, security forces attacked the group's school in the Bajaur tribal area about 40 km to the northwest of Dargai, near the Afghan border.
About 80 suspected militants were killed, authorities said. The group denied that militants were being trained at the school. Its supporters and local politicians said the attack was carried out by US forces. The United States and Pakistan denied that.
Military spokesman Major-General Shaukat Sultan said the suicide blast was linked to the attack on the madrasa in Bajaur.
"We can trace back the linkage with Bajaur. We have been receiving intelligence reports about militants being trained for such activities," Sultan said.
"Maulana Faqir has been clearly assisting them and recruiting them for terrorist activities," he said, referring to the group's fugitive leader, Faqir Mohammad.
The group launched a campaign in the 1990s to enforce Taliban-style rules in the area and sent thousands of tribesmen to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban following the US-led invasion in 2001.
The army recruits had gathered to rest after finishing a training session when the bomber struck, a resident said.
The training ground was littered with body parts, military caps and shoes, witnesses said. Soldiers were later seen picking up pieces of flesh and filling in a crater left by the blast.
At least 20 soldiers were wounded and many were in serious condition, a senior government official, Javed Marwat, said from a town hospital.
(China Daily November 9, 2006)