A suicide bomber killed at least four people and wounded around 50 others Tuesday in northwestern Pakistan. The violence happened in a volatile region near the Afghan border and an umbrella organization of Islamist insurgents called the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
The deadly bombing occurred in the mountainous Khyber district where Pakistani security forces are conducting counter-militancy operations.
Witnesses said a suicide bomber set off explosives during morning rush hour near a local government office in the region’s administrative center of Jamrud. According to authorities, a paramilitary vehicle was apparently the target and civilians as well as tribal police personnel were among those killed or wounded.
Pakistan’s military launched a major ground and air offensive called "Zarbe Azb" in June 2014 to quell the Islamist insurgency. The operation initially focused on “terrorism infrastructure” in the North Waziristan tribal district and was later extended to Khyber as well as some urban parts of the country.
More than 3,000 militants have been killed since the start of the operation and around 400 soldiers also have died, said the military.
Tuesday’s suicide blast happened just two days after U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice visited Islamabad, where she held extensive talks with Pakistani leaders on regional counterterrorism efforts.
Pakistani National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz said his American counterpart praised Islamabad’s “decisive action” against extremism and terrorism, adding the campaign, particularly in the tribal area, is nearing its end.
“In terms of the actual results, obviously, the results in North Waziristan and elsewhere are more positive and [operation Zarbe Azb] is almost reaching its conclusion," Aziz said.
The Pakistani Taliban said the attack was carried out in revenge for government security operations against them.
In a statement emailed to media, the group’s spokesman Mohammad Khorasani threatened it will launch more attacks in the future and the fight will continue until what he called “anti-Muslim Pakistani rulers” are eliminated and an “Islamic system” is implemented in the country.
Pakistani security operations, officials said, have cleared most of the tribal belt near the border but some pockets in remote mountains still have to be cleared. Pakistani officials have repeatedly said fugitive militants plan and stage cross-border raids from their alleged Afghan sanctuaries.
The Pakistani tribal areas are also known for harboring foreign militants, particularly those linked to the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The recent rise in militant attacks against security forces and pro-government tribal leaders, particularly in border areas, analysts say, could be an attempt by the Pakistani Taliban to stage a comeback to its former strongholds.