ISLAMABAD — Two suicide bombers attacked the home of a senior military officer Wednesday in the western city of Quetta, wounding him and killing at least 23 people in a possible revenge attack for Pakistan’s recent arrest of a senior al Qaida commander.
Among the dead were the wife of Brigadier Farukh Shehzad, the deputy head of the paramilitary Frontier Corp for the province, who was the target of the attack, and eight security personnel, including a colonel, officials said.
The blast came two days after Pakistan announced that it had arrested in Quetta Younis al Mauritani, a leading strategist in al Qaida with responsibility for planning attacks against the West, along with two other al Qaida figures. U.S. intelligence was involved in the detentions, which were a major coup for Pakistan, since it's come under heavy international criticism after Osama bin Laden was found hiding in the country in May.
The Frontier Corps was the security force used in the detention of Mauritani, a Pakistani military statement had said. Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Wednesday that the capture of Mauritani had been carried out in “close coordination with the CIA”. He said the al Qaida cell had been under surveillance at its hideout in the suburbs of Quetta since October.
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Police Officer Hamid Shakil said one suicide bomber blew himself up next to a military vehicle outside Shehzad’s house, while the other managed to get inside, firing and hurling grenades before blowing himself up. The charred bodies of the occupants of the military vehicle were still visible as ambulance crews rushed the 50-plus wounded to hospitals. Mangled vehicles were left in the street, and Shehzad’s home was badly damaged, television pictures from the scene showed.
Police identified one of the attackers as a 21-year-old Afghan refugee.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, but they gave differing reasons to the news media, telling some outlets that it was to avenge Mauritani's arrest and others that it was revenge for an unrelated incident earlier this year in which the Frontiers Corps killed several “Chechen” people in the city, suspecting them of being suicide bombers.
Closely allied with al Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban carried out a series of attacks after U.S. special forces killed bin Laden in May in a raid on his compound in the northern town of Abbottabad. The Pakistani Taliban launched an Islamist insurgency and terrorist campaign against the Pakistani government in 2007, targeting security forces in particular.
Quetta, which is close to the Afghan border, is known as the seat of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the so-called Quetta shura. It's the capital of sparsely populated Baluchistan province.
U.S.-Pakistan relations have been severely strained since the killing of bin Laden, with Islamabad protesting the unilateral operation on its soil while Washington has questioned how the al Qaida leader was able to live there undisturbed. The arrest of Mauritani was a rare recent example of the two allies working together.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had commended Pakistan on Tuesday for the Mauritani arrest.
“It's a tribute to the Pakistanis, who worked with us on this effort to be able to go after him,” Panetta said.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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