PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Taliban militants wearing suicide vests fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at an army post in northwestern Pakistan in a pre-dawn raid Saturday, killing 23 people, including 10 civilians, officials said.
Twelve attackers also were killed in the assault.
The raid came a day after a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque elsewhere in the northwest that killed 30 people, police said. The blast at the mosque was the latest in a rising number of sectarian attacks in the country.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and sometimes targets the country's minority Shiites.
The Taliban and allied militant groups have stepped up the pace of attacks in Pakistan in recent months, an indication of their strength despite numerous army operations against their strongholds in the northwest.
The raid on the army post in Serai Naurang town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province began around 3:45 a.m. local time and lasted for several hours, said senior police officer Arif Khan Wazir. The militants fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
Two security officials said the militants killed 10 civilians, including three women and three children, in a nearby house. In addition to the civilians, nine soldiers; four members of the Frontier Constabulary, a force that polices parts of northwestern Pakistan; and 12 attackers also were killed in the fighting.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location. He said four suicide bombers were involved in the attack. He said that three of them were killed and the fourth was still resisting as of his call at around 9:20 a.m. local time.
Ahsan said the attack was in retaliation for the recent deaths of two Taliban commanders in U.S. drone strikes. He accused the Pakistani army of helping with the attacks. Pakistani officials often criticize drone operations as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but are known to have assisted some U.S. strikes in the past.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said he saw the bodies of three attackers with their suicide vests intact. Their features suggested they belonged to a group of Uzbek militants allied with the Taliban, he said.
He said other attackers detonated their explosives during the battle with security forces — one inside the house where civilians were killed. He did not say if this caused the civilian deaths.
The attack on the mosque Friday took place in Hangu town, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The town has experienced previous clashes between the Sunni and Shiite communities there.
Six people wounded in the bombing died on Saturday, raising the death toll to 30, said local political official Tahir Zafar Abbasi.
Shiites in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in the country's history. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan last year.
The Taliban are battling the Pakistani government because of its alliance with the United States and because it wants to impose Islamic law in the country. Pakistani's military has launched operations against the Taliban in many of their sanctuaries in the semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border.
But one major area remains: North Waziristan, the main stronghold for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country. The army has resisted launching an operation there, despite intense U.S. pressure, for fear of a backlash from militants who so far have directed their attacks against U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan rather than inside Pakistan.
It's unclear whether the recent surge of attacks in Pakistan will alter the army's calculation. There also have been calls from some political leaders to hold talks with the Taliban in an attempt to end the violence. But others believe it is not possible to reason with the Taliban or trust them, and that the best option is to try to battle them into submission.
Also Saturday, a bomb exploded during a search of a compound in Ghunda Mela area of Orakzai tribal region, killing an army officer and a soldier and injuring two soldiers, according to a military statement. Orakzai is one of the tribal regions where Pakistan army is carrying out massive operations against Islamist militants.
Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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