PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A suicide bomber struck near Pakistani army headquarters Monday, killing at least 13 people, including six soldiers, in the second major attack on Pakistan’s security forces in as many days.
Eighteen others were wounded in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, police officials said, when a man riding a bicycle blew himself up as police tried to stop him near a military police checkpoint.
The Pakistani Taliban coalition of insurgents claimed responsibility, just as they had for the previous day’s attack, when a bomb exploded inside an army base in northwest Pakistan as a convoy of security forces was preparing to depart for the volatile North Waziristan region. The area is located inside Pakistan’s tribal belt near the border with Afghanistan, where soldiers and paramilitary forces have been battling the militant organization.
At least 22 soldiers were killed and 30 others wounded, many of them critically, in Sunday’s bombing.
The twin attacks mark a significant escalation in the Pakistani Taliban’s campaign of assaults and raises new questions about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to engage the insurgent group -- which aims to overthrow the government and establish a hard-line Islamic state -- in peace talks. Taliban leaders have claimed that they are ready for talks but continue to carry out violent attacks.
In response to the violence, Sharif, elected last May, canceled a visit to Switzerland, where he was to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Prior to the Monday morning attack in Rawalpindi, which lies just outside the capital Islamabad, police and law enforcement agencies had received intelligence about the possible presence of a suicide bomber in the city, according to security officials who declined to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.
Eyewitnesses said the suspected bomber was cycling toward a military checkpoint next to the army’s general headquarters when police tried to stop him. That was when he detonated his explosives, said Mian Maqbool, a senior police official.
The blast occurred in Rawalpindi’s busy Royal Artillery Bazaar area at about 8 a.m. local time, as parents were taking their children to school, Maqbool said.
Officials said that six security personnel and seven civilians were killed. Police said they collected body parts believed to belong to the bomber and would take them for DNA testing.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, told news agencies by telephone that the attack was in retaliation for the ongoing military campaign against the insurgent group in the tribal areas, as well as for the death last May of its senior commander, Waliur Rehman, in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan.
Pakistani security forces have often come under attack from insurgents in the tribal belt, where they enjoy a haven along with Taliban militants who are battling U.S.-led coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan. But attacks inside heavily guarded Rawalpindi are rare.
In October 2009, Taliban commandos besieged the army headquarters for 22 hours in a bloody standoff that left 23 dead, including nine militants.
Ali is a Times special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times