A pair of suicide bombers from Pakistan’s Taliban have killed 80 people in an attack at paramilitary training centre in first major retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The blasts in Pakistan’s north-west came even as the country faced international suspicion that elements within its security forces may have been harbouring 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 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 close to the Afghan border. Like other branches of Pakistan’s security forces, it has received US funding to try and sharpen its skills.
At least 80 people were killed, 66 of them recruits, and around 120 people were wounded, said police officer Liaqat Ali Khan.
Around 900 young men were leaving the centre 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 explosions destroyed at least 10 vans.
It was the first major militant attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death in a May 2 US raid in Abbottabad, and the deadliest this year.
Ahsan, the Taliban spokesman, also suggested the attack was aimed as punishment against Pakistani authorities for failing to stop the unilateral US 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.
The explosive vests 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.