By Mian Khursheed
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber killed 13 people in a crowded market near the Pakistani army headquarters on Monday, a day after the Taliban killed 20 soldiers near the largely lawless, tribal region of North Waziristan, police said.
The market, a short walk from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, was in one of the most secure areas of the city. The area was cordoned off by the military immediately after the blast.
Two college students wearing blue uniforms were among the dead, their bodies lying near wreckage of a bicycle and pools of blood. Rescue workers struggled to help the wounded. Windows were shattered several hundred meters away.
The attacks come after a couple of months of relative calm as the Taliban regrouped following the death of leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in November. A drone had killed his deputy earlier in the year.
After protracted negotiations, Mehsud was replaced by Mullah Fazlullah, a ruthless commander who has made large-scale attacks on Pakistani security forces his trademark.
Police Superintendent Muhammad Maqbool said five of the 13 killed on Monday were soldiers. Fourteen were wounded, he said.
Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the blast on behalf of the Islamist insurgents.
"We will continue attacks on the government and its armed forces as the government has neither announced a ceasefire nor peace talks with us," he said.
Monday's attack came a day after a bomb planted by the Taliban ripped through a vehicle carrying Pakistani troops on Sunday, killing 20. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos this week to address the violence.
The government is keen to pursue peace talks with the Taliban to end the insurgency but there has been an upsurge in attacks since Sharif won elections in May 2013.
(Additional reporting by Amjad Ali and Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad, Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar.; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Politics & Government
- Hakimullah Mehsud