Pakistani tribal leader among 5 dead in blast

Mon Sep 28, 2009 7:30am EDT

BANNU, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide car-bomber killed a pro-government ethnic Pashtun tribal leader and four other people in northwest Pakistan on Monday, police and security officials said.

Pakistani soldiers, separately, killed 10 militants in an artillery barrage on a rebel stronghold.

Violence has been picking up in northwest Pakistan after a relative lull that followed the killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader in a U.S. drone attack last month, and after troops made gains in an assault launched in the Swat region in April.

Monday’s attack near the town of Bannu in North West Frontier Province came two days after two suicide bomb attacks, one of them in Bannu, killed 27 people.

“The bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the vehicle carrying Abdul Hakeem and his two guards, killing them on the spot,” said Wali Hayat Khan, a police official in the region, referring to the tribal elder.

Two passers-by were also killed, witnesses said.

The attack will compound fears that the Taliban are re-organizing and striking back against the government and its allies after setbacks which led to the interior minister proclaiming that the back of the militants had been broken.

Separately, the army fired artillery at militants in the South Waziristan Islamist stronghold on the Afghan border after the militants attacked a military base in neighboring North Waziristan killing one person, security officials said.

Ten militants were killed in the artillery barrage, the security officials said.

Pakistani Taliban fighters made advances toward the capital, Islamabad, early this year, raising fears for the stability of the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

But gains against the militants in the Swat offensive and the killing of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud by a missile fired by a pilotless U.S. drone aircraft has helped allay those worries.

Attacks on the Taliban in their South Waziristan stronghold have also reassured the United States of Pakistan’s commitment to the fight against militancy, although the army has yet to launch a ground offensive into Waziristan.

Pakistani action in its northwest is vital for U.S. efforts to get to grips with an intensifying Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said in an assessment leaked to the media last week the Afghan insurgency was supported from Pakistan and Afghanistan needed Pakistani action.

(Reporting by Adil Khan and Haji Mujtaba; Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)

[original]

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