A pair of suicide bombers attacked recruits leaving a paramilitary training center in Pakistan on Friday, killing 80 people in the first retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos last week.
The blasts in the northwest were a reminder of the savagery of al-Qaida-linked militants in Pakistan. They occurred even as the country faces international suspicion that elements within its security forces may have been harboring bin Laden, who was killed in a raid in Abbottabad, about a three hours' drive from the scene of the bombing.
"We have done this to avenge the Abbottabad incident," Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, told The Associated Press in a phone call. He warned that the group was also planning attacks on Americans living inside Pakistan.
The bombers blew themselves up in Shabqadar at the main gate of the facility for the Frontier Constabulary, a poorly equipped but front-line force in the battle against al-Qaida and allied Islamist groups like the Pakistani Taliban close to the Afghan border. Like other branches of Pakistan's security forces, it has received U.S. funding to try to sharpen its skills.
At least 80 people were killed, including 66 recruits, and around 120 people were wounded, said police officer Liaqat Ali Khan.
Around 900 young men were leaving the center after spending six months of training there. They were in high spirits and looking forward to seeing their families, for which some had brought gifts, a survivor said.
Some people were sitting inside public minivans and others were loading luggage atop the vehicles when the bombers struck, witnesses said.
"We were heading toward a van when the first blast took place and we fell on the ground and then there was another blast," said 21-year-old Rehmanullah Khan. "We enjoyed our time together, all the good and bad weather and I cannot forget the cries of my friends before they died."
The scene was littered with shards of glass mixed with blood and flesh. The explosions destroyed at least 10 vans.
It was the first major militant attack in Pakistan since bin Laden's death on May 2, and the deadliest this year.
Militants had pledged to avenge the killing and launch reprisal strikes in Pakistan.
The Taliban spokesman also suggested the attack was aimed as punishment against Pakistani authorities for failing to stop the unilateral U.S. raid that killed bin Laden, something that has sparked popular nationalist and Islamist anger.
"The Pakistani army has failed to protect its land," Ahsan said.
In its communications, the Taliban often tries to tap into popular sentiments in the country, where anti-Americanism is often stronger than feelings against Islamist militants. This is despite militant attacks over the last four years claiming the lives of many hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians.
Some 350 lawyers sympathetic with Islamists attended special prayers for bin Laden on the premises of the provincial high court in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday. The lawyers cursed the May 2 raid, chanting "Down with America."
The explosive vests used in Friday's attacks were packed with ball bearings and nails, police said.
Police official Nisar Khan said a suicide bomber in his late teens or early 20s set off one of the blasts.
"The first blast occurred in the middle of the road, and after that there was a huge blast that was more powerful than the first," said Abdul Wahid, a 25-year-old recruit whose legs were wounded in the blasts.
He said he was knocked to the ground by the force of the explosions.
"After falling, I just started crawling and dragging myself to a safer place ... along the wall of a roadside shop," he said.
The Sept. 11 mastermind and at least four others were killed by U.S. Navy SEALs who raided bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, a garrison city not far from the capital. Bin Laden is believed to have lived in the large house for up to six years.
Pakistani officials have denied knowing he was there but have criticized the American raid ordered by President Barack Obama as a violation of their country's sovereignty. To counter allegations that Pakistan had harbored bin Laden, the officials have pointed out that many thousands of Pakistani citizens, and up to 3,000 of its security forces, have died in suicide bombings and other attacks since Sept. 11, 2001, when Islamabad became an ally of the U.S. in taking on Islamist extremists.
Many of the attacks in Pakistan have targeted security forces, but government buildings, religious minorities, public places and Western targets have also been hit.
The New York Times
Twin bomb attacks on a paramilitary force academy in north-west Pakistan have killed 73 people, police say.
A number of people were hurt in the blasts at the training centre for the Frontier Constabulary in Shabqadar, Charsadda district.
After early suspicions that one of the bombs was planted, police now say both blasts were caused by suicide attacks.
The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the attack to avenge the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier this month.
The al-Qaeda leader was killed during a US commando raid in the northern Pakistani town of Abbottabad on 2 May.
The bombings happened as newly trained cadets from the Frontier Constabulary were getting into buses for a short leave after completing their course.
"I was sitting in a van waiting for my colleagues. We were in plain clothes and we were happy we were going to see our families," Ahmad Ali, a wounded paramilitary policeman, told AFP news agency.
"I heard someone shouting 'Allahu Akbar' [God is great] and then I heard a huge blast. I was hit by something in my back shoulder.
"In the meantime I heard another blast and I jumped out of the van. I felt that I was injured and bleeding."
At least 65 of the dead were recruits, but there were also civilian casualties, officials say.
The injured were taken to a local hospital and security forces sealed off the area.
A number of vehicles were destroyed in the blast.
Shabqadar lies on the border with Afghanistan, about 35km (22 miles) north-west of Peshawar, not far from the militant stronghold of Mohmand.
The BBC's Aleem Maqbool, in Islamabad, says the security forces have often been the target of such attacks as they fight the Pakistani Taliban across the north-west of the country, but Friday's bombing is the deadliest attack this year.
He adds that the Pakistani army - which has come under intense scrutiny and criticism over the Bin Laden affair - is likely to point out that this attack is an illustration of the sacrifices it has made in the so-called "war on terror".
Later on Friday, army chiefs are expected to appear in parliament to explain their actions over the death of Bin Laden.
In recent years, Taliban militants have killed hundreds of people in bombings and other attacks across Pakistan.
The New York Times
More than 70 paramilitary soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up Friday morning at a military training center in northwest Pakistan, a local police chief said.
The suicide bomber attacked members of the Frontier Constabulary at Shabqadar Fort in the town of Charsadda as they were preparing for their graduation ceremony, said Liaqat Khan, the police chief in nearby Peshawar.
The death toll was almost certain to rise and could end up to be the highest number of law enforcement officials to be killed in a terrorist attack in recent years, Mr. Khan said. At least 80 people were injured, officials said.
The bomber was in a car outside the fort when he detonated the explosives about 6 a.m., just as the graduates were gathering for the graduation, which was scheduled to start two hours later.
A second bomber was likely to be involved in the attack, Mr. Khan said.
The bombing appears to be connected to militants who are fighting the Pakistan Army in Mohmand, a mountainous area in a tribal region near Charsadda.
The army recently launched the third phase of a ferocious two-year offensive aimed at trying to drive militants out of the Mohmand district. The army has recently suffered heavy losses in the fighting.
The Taliban in Mohmand have been able to force the Pakistani Army into a lengthy campaign by seeking refuge in sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. NATO forces in Afghanistan have been assisting Pakistan by going after the militants as they escape across the border.
The Frontier Constabulary forces who were the target of the suicide attack on Friday are not involved in the fighting in Mohmand. They serve as security guards at checkpoints in Khyber Pakhtunwha Province, but their graduation, officials said, provided an accessible target for the militants to drive home their message.
Officials said it was unlikely that the attack was linked to the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2 in the city of Abbottabad, which is not far from Charsadda.
A bomb attack targeting a paramilitary force academy in north-western Pakistan has killed at least five people, police say.
A number of people were injured in the blast, and police warn that the death toll could rise.
There are unconfirmed reports that two suicide bombers carried out the bombing.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, details of which are still unclear.
Taliban militants have killed hundreds people in bombings and other attacks in recent years.