PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A suicide bombing Friday in a bustling market in northwest Pakistan killed at least 17 people, including two senior officials from a local security force, and injured more than 40, officials said.
The attack occurred in the tribal region of Bajaur along the Afghan border, an area that had seen intense fighting between Pakistani Taliban militants and army troops in years past but had been relatively calm in recent months. The Associated Press quoted the Pakistani Taliban as claiming responsibility for the attack.
The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his chest as he approached the main bazaar in the town of Khar, the administrative center of Bajaur. Maj. Javed Khan and his deputy, Fazal Rabi, both members of Bajaur's security force, were killed in the blast. Others killed included a woman shopping at the bazaar and children on their way to school, officials said.
The bombing comes a day after the publication of letters seized from Osama bin Laden's compound, some of which discussed Al Qaeda's criticism of Pakistani militants responsible for killing Muslim civilians in mosques and markets.
The group that poses the biggest threat to Pakistani civilians and security forces is the Pakistani Taliban, an amalgam of insurgent factions united by the goal of toppling the current government and imposing Sharia, or Islamic, law. The group, which maintains strong links with Al Qaeda, has engineered some of the country's worst terrorist strikes, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. The group's targets have included mosques, bazaars and other locations where civilians congregate.
The Al Qaeda letters, seized from Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad during the U.S. raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader a year ago, shed light on Al Qaeda's frustration with the Pakistani Taliban's indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilian targets within Pakistan.
One letter, written by two Al Qaeda leaders and sent to Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mahsud, criticized the Pakistani militant leader for dispatching suicide bombers to "marketplaces, mosques, roads and assembly places. ... We hope that you will take the necessary action to correct your actions and avoid these grave mistakes."
-- Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez
Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar, and staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad.