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Suicide Bomber Kills 22 Pakistan Guards At Afghan Border

Pakistani paramilitary forces guard a post at the Afghan border.

Pakistani paramilitary forces guard a post at the Afghan border.

JAMRUD, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber has killed 22 Pakistani border guards in an attack at the main crossing point into Afghanistan, government officials said.

It was the first big attack in Pakistan since Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. missile strike on August 5. It is likely to raise fears that the militants, who officials say have been in disarray, are hitting back.

The bomber struck on August 27 as the guards were sitting down at sunset to break their daily fast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"The guards were about to break their fast when a teenaged boy carrying a bottle of Pepsi walked towards them and blew himself up," said Wakil Khan, a witness at the Torkham border crossing.

Nasir Khan, a senior government official in the Khyber region, said 22 people had been killed.

Pakistan has been hit by a series of suicide bomb attacks over the past two years, launched by Al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting the government because of its support for the U.S.-led campaign against Islamist militancy.

Security forces have cleared most militants from the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, in an offensive since late April, and have also been attacking Mehsud's men in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border.

Earlier the same day, two missiles believed to have been fired by a U.S. drone struck a militant hideout, killing six fighters in South Waziristan, intelligence officials said.

The Taliban had been denying Mehsud's death for weeks, but on August 24 two of his aides, Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali-ur-Rehman, confirmed their leader had been killed.

Hakimullah, who led militants in the Khyber, Orakzai, and Kurram ethnic Pashtun tribal regions, has been picked as the new overall commander of the Pakistani Taliban.

Security officials have been saying they were expecting reprisal attacks by Hakimullah's men and the blast in Khyber would appear to indicate he is determined to press on with the fight against the government.

Pakistani action against militants on its side of the border is vital for U.S.-led efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban are allied with the Afghan Taliban but Mehsud directed his attacks on Pakistani security forces.

Some Afghan Taliban factions, which have bases in lawless Pashtun lands on the Pakistani side of the border, have argued against attacks in Pakistan, saying all fighters should concentrate on expelling Western forces from Afghanistan.

Western governments with forces in Afghanistan are watching to see if a new Pakistani Taliban leader would shift focus from fighting the Pakistan government to supporting the Afghan insurgency.

Torkham is at the top of the Khyber Pass, through which a large amount of supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan, including much of their fuel, passes into landlocked Afghanistan.

Hakimullah Mehsud's men stepped up attacks on convoys trucking supplies through the pass early this year, forcing the United States and its allies to look for new routes into Afghanistan, but their raids have fallen off in recent months.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in a statement the attack at Torkham was a cowardly act and his government was determined to stamp out terrorism.