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Police Targeted In Bombings In Northwest Pakistan


The site of an earlier suicide bombing in Khyber on February 10.

The site of an earlier suicide bombing in Khyber on February 10.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- Two suspected suicide bombers attacked police in northwestern Pakistan today, killing 15 people and wounding about 20, including a town police chief, a doctor and police said.

The bombing in Bannu town, 260 kilometers southwest of Islamabad and near the North Waziristan militant enclave on the Afghan border, was the second attack on police in as many days.

The violence has come as the government says it believes its biggest militant enemy, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, is dead.

The first bomb went off inside a police compound with the second, minutes later, just outside, police said.

"Seven police are among the dead," said a Bannu police officer. Town police chief Iqbal Marwat, was among the wounded, police said.

A doctor at Bannu's main hospital said 15 people had been killed and about 20 wounded people had been brought in.

The Pakistani Taliban, allies of the Afghan Taliban, have lost much ground in military offensives over the past year but they have responded with numerous bomb attacks, many of them aimed at the security forces.

A suicide car-bomber attacked police in the northwestern Khyber region on February 10, killing 19 people including 11 police officers, a soldier, and seven civilians.

Speculation has swirled over the Taliban leader's fate since January 14 when security officials said a missile-firing U.S. drone had targeted him. A drone was believed to have attacked him again three days later, officials said.

Mehsud is believed to have died of wounds suffered in one of the attacks. The government had "credible information" he was dead, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on February 10.

A Taliban spokesman has denied that Mehsud was dead but the militants also denied for weeks the death in August of their previous leader, who was killed by a U.S. drone.

The army, which has a limited presence in large parts of the mountainous ethnic Pashtun border lands, said it could not confirm Mehsud's death.

The death of Mehsud, notorious for his ferocity, could temporarily disrupt the Taliban campaign of bomb attacks.

But the Taliban is part of a network that includes groups from Punjab Province and has a presence in most parts of the country. That network remains intact.

The U.S. drone strikes aimed at Mehsud last month came after a video emerged showing him with a Jordanian double agent bomber who killed seven CIA employees in Afghanistan on December 30.

The militant violence in Pakistan has raised fears for the nuclear-armed U.S. ally's stability and scared off investors.

Pakistani action against militants along its Afghan border is seen as crucial for efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan. Pakistan could also play a major role in efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones was in Islamabad today for talks with President Asif Ali Zardari and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani that covered Pakistan's efforts against the militants, Pakistani media reported.
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