MIRAMSHAH/PESHAWAR, Jan 22: A suicide bomber on Monday rammed his explosives-laden car into a military convoy near Mirali, North Waziristan Agency, killing four security personnel and a woman, and injuring 23, including 20 soldiers, officials and eyewitnesses said.

The incident occurred at the Khajori checkpoint, about two kilometres east of Mirali town, when a joint convoy of the army and paramilitary force was heading from the Bannu Garrison to Miramshah, the restive region’s administrative headquarters.

A militant commander in the neighbouring South Waziristan Agency, Baitullah Mehsud, had vowed last week to avenge the Hamzola air strike in which over 10 people were killed and eight others wounded.

Witnesses said that three military vehicles and a passenger coach were also damaged in the first deadly attack since the government and Taliban-backed tribal insurgents signed a peace agreement on Sept 5, 2006.

Army and paramilitary troops had vacated the Khajori checkpoint as per condition of the peace deal and it is now managed by members of the Khasaddar force.

Militants in the North Waziristan promptly denounced the incident and claimed they were not involved in the attack.

A statement issued from the security office of the Taliban, North Waziristan, said: “We (Taliban) have no hand in the bomb attack and we want to keep the peace agreement intact and the government should also act upon the deal”.

Local Taliban leaders, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mufti Saddiq Noor, immediately called a Shoora meeting in Miramshah to discuss the situation. MNA Maulvi Nek Zaman also joined the session later, the statement said.

NWFP Governor's spokesman Shah Zaman Khan termed the attack unfortunate, and said that the government was making its utmost efforts to keep the peace agreement intact.

“Some criminal elements in the area are trying to derail the peace process,” the spokesman told Dawn in Peshawar.

Such activities, he said, were neither in the interest of the tribesmen nor in the interest of the country. Only enemies of peace could carry out such barbaric acts, he added.

It was very pre-mature to single out an individual or a group, he said when asked who might be behind the attack.

Sources told Dawn in Peshawar that in fact the local Taliban Shoora had no influence in Mirali, an area that is considered to be the hub of foreign militants.

They said that Baitullah Mehsud, who himself entered into the peace agreement with the government, had set up his office in Dandi Derpakhel.

Residents of the area said that the bomber struck his non-custom paid car with the lead vehicle in the convoy near the checkpoint. The explosion rocked the entire area and residents in Miramshah heard the bang.

The explosion also hit another vehicle passing by the convoy, killing a woman and badly wounding her father and two brothers.

The victim has been identified as Shakila Naz. She, her father Rehmatullah and brothers Inamullah and Inayatullah, were going to Lakki Marwat from Miramshah.

Officials said that three paramilitary soldiers and an army man were killed on the spot, while 20 soldiers were wounded, many of them seriously. The wounded were flown out in helicopters to Bannu and Peshawar.

Tension gripped the town and security forces cordoned off the entire area. The Bannu-Miramshah road was blocked for several hours, but no arrest was made.

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