The death toll in a suicide bomb blast at a military training school in the northwest city of Mardan rose to 32 Thursday in an attack that underscored militants’ ability to strike sensitive Pakistani installations despite a series of army offensives aimed at uprooting the country’s homegrown insurgency.
The attack occurred at the Punjab Regiment Center, an army training camp, just as cadets had assembled on the grounds and were going through their morning exercises. Zeeshan Haider, a local police official, said a teenage boy dressed in a school uniform appeared on the grounds and detonated the explosives-laden suicide vest he was wearing.
The blast injured 42 other cadets, several critically, authorities said. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Associated Press.
The bomber was able to penetrate a heavily secured district that is off-limits to the general public. Despite the high level of security, it wasn’t the first time the training center has been hit; a suicide bomb attack on the same facility in 2006 killed 35 people. After the bombing Thursday, security forces cordoned off the area and did not allow the media inside.
Mardan is one of several Pashtun-majority cities lying east of Pakistan’s volatile tribal belt where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants maintain hideouts. In the last two years, the Pakistani army has launched large-scale offensives in several parts of the northwest, including the Swat Valley, South Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai, in an effort to end the Taliban’s campaign of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts that have devastated the country.
The operations have had some success. The Swat Valley, once the country’s tourism hub, has largely stabilized, and refugees from South Waziristan just recently began returning to their homes. However, the Taliban maintains cells throughout the country and has shown the ability to launch suicide bomb strikes throughout the volatile northwest, as well as in major cities like Lahore and Karachi.
Staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Lahore, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar.