Officials in Pakistan say a suicide bomb has killed at least 16 police recruits in the Swat region, where Taliban insurgents have had their stronghold until recently. This is the second major suicide bombing in the country's northwest within the past week, raising fears Taliban militants have regrouped and are hitting back.
Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain tells VOA the deadly suicide attack in Mingora, the main town of the Swat Valley, targeted a police training facility and instantly killed 14 people.
The minister says that up to 70 volunteers for a new community police force were holding their daily drills when a suicide bomber entered the training ground and detonated his explosives. He described condition of some of those wounded in the attack as critical.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has condemned the attack and has reiterated Pakistan's resolve to fight militancy.
The Swat Valley was under the control of Taliban extremists for more than three years. Under intense international criticism and pressure the Pakistan army launched a major offensive in early May to secure Swat and surrounding districts. The military operation, officials say, has killed more than 1,800 militants and has driven out others from the scenic Pakistani region.
The fighting forced nearly a million people to flee Swat to safer areas. But most of the dislocated families have returned to their homes since the military declared the region cleared of militants in July. Pakistan has seen frequent suicide terrorist attacks within the past two years, killing nearly 3,000 people. But the violence had subsided since the Swat operation was launched and a U.S drone strike killed top Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.
Pakistani officials claimed the military successes have also caused infighting among Taliban groups over who should replace Mehsud. But insurgents have declared another militant commander, Hakeemullah Mehsud, as their new chief and have rejected reports of infighting among their ranks.
Observers say the attack in Swat, as well as a massive suicide bombing in the Khyber border region three days ago that killed more than 22 security personnel, indicate the Taliban have regrouped to hit back.