BANNU: In one of the deadliest Taliban attacks in recent years, 20 soldiers were killed and 30 others injured when an explosives-laden vehicle in a military convoy exploded inside the Bannu garrison on Sunday.
There were conflicting reports about the nature of the attack. Some blamed it on a suicide bomber while others said that the bomb had been detonated by remote control.
A foreign news agency quoted a senior military official as saying that “a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) caused the blast”, but added that the exact circumstances were unclear.
Security officials denied reports that a suicide bomber had rammed his explosives-laden car into the convoy comprising 40 vehicles. According to them, an IED was planted in one of the private vehicles hired for transporting soldiers from the Bannu garrison to Razmak town in North Waziristan Agency.
A security official told Dawn in Peshawar that Shawal Scouts, a unit of the Frontier Corps, had hired the vehicles in a local market. “The convoy was about to leave for Razmak, adjacent to Bannu district, when the IED ripped through one of the private vehicles at about 8.45am,” he said. The exact number of private vehicles could not be ascertained, but some sources put the number at about a dozen.
A curfew was imposed in North Waziristan, a stronghold of militants linked to Taliban and Al Qaeda, for security of the convoy.
A government official said paramilitary and other security forces routinely rented unmarked vehicles to hide identity for security reasons. He said there was a shortage of vehicles in the FC carrying out operations in the tribal area under the army command.
Residents said that after the powerful explosion security forces cordoned off the main road. There was a curfew-like situation in the area.
According to the sources, the private vehicles were hired on Saturday night. They said the bomb went off when security personnel were praying before boarding the vehicles.
Officials said that 19 soldiers and the driver of the bomb-fitted vehicle were killed and 30 personnel injured. The injured were taken to the Combined Military Hospital inside the garrison, where the condition of 15 was stated to be critical.
The officials said six bodies were beyond recognition and DNA tests were being carried out to identify them.
An eyewitness told AFP by telephone that the vehicle hit by the bomb was transformed into scorched metal.
“I collected human remains, including hands and legs from the site after the attack,” he said.
Body parts and soldiers’ personal belongings littered the scene.
Pazir Gul adds from Miramshah: Soon after the explosion, according to residents, security forces launched an operation and helicopter gunships fired missiles in Mirali Bazaar and adjacent villages.
Reports from the area quote local people as saying that five civilians, two children among them, were killed in the shelling. Three men died on Khaisur Road and the two children in Mirali Bazaar.
Residential areas also came under the attack and helicopters fired missiles at suspected positions.
Local people have started leaving the area and shifting their women and children to safe places.