Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taliban avenge bin Laden; 66 killed

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A double Taliban suicide attack that killed 66 paramilitary police recruits represented the deadliest terrorist strike in Pakistan since the killing of Osama bin Laden. It sent a strong signal that militants mean to fight on and try to avenge the al-Qaida leader.

Friday's attack came as both the Pakistani and Afghan wings of the Taliban have been carrying out attacks to prove they remain a potent force and bolster their profiles in case peace talks prevail in Afghanistan.

U.S. and Afghan officials have said they hope the Afghan Taliban will use bin Laden's death as an opportunity to break their link with al-Qaida, an alliance the U.S. says must be severed if the insurgents want peace in Afghanistan. But Afghan officials and Pakistani experts say any severing of ties would not happen anytime soon, if at all.

"The Taliban want to prove that bin Laden's killing did not really affect them," said Rahimullah Yusafzai, a Taliban expert in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, who has interviewed their reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

"I don't think anybody is talking peace at this stage," Yusafzai said. "Everybody is wanting to score something on the ground. I think the spring fighting, the summer fighting will continue and it will be worse than last year."

In claiming responsibility for Friday's attack in northwest Pakistan, which also wounded about 120 people, the Taliban said it was avenging the May 2 death of bin Laden. It cited anger at Pakistan's military for failing to stop the unilateral U.S. raid on bin Laden's hideaway.

"The Pakistani army has failed to protect its land," Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, told The Associated Press in a phone call.

In their communications, militants often try to tap into popular sentiments in Pakistan, where anti-Americanism is often stronger than fears of Islamist militants.

Before the Taliban claimed responsibility, Liaqat Ali Khan, a senior police official in Peshawar near where the attack occurred, said the primary suspects were militants fighting security forces in the nearby Mohmand tribal region.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2011 A24

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