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70 killed as Taliban claim bin Laden revenge

SHABQADAR, May 13 – Pakistan\’s Taliban on Friday claimed their first major strike in revenge for Osama bin Laden\’s death as at least 70 people were killed in a double suicide bombing on paramilitary police.

More than 100 people were wounded in the deadliest attack in the nuclear-armed Muslim country this year, which came with the government deep in crisis over the killing of the Al-Qaeda chief by US forces on May 2.

Pakistan\’s senior military officer General Khalid Shameem Wynne cancelled a visit to the United States, a military official said, citing the "prevailing environment".

But despite a Pakistani vow on Thursday to review intelligence cooperation, CNN reported that US intelligence agents had interrogated three of bin Laden\’s widows who were apprehended in the raid and taken into Pakistani custody.

The women were interviewed as a group, despite US wishes to question them separately, and were openly "hostile" to the US officials, CNN said, quoting a Pakistani official and two US officials.

Pakistan\’s intelligence agency, which CNN said also attended the meeting, was not immediately available to comment on the report.

Friday\’s explosions detonated in northwest Pakistan as newly trained paramilitary cadets were getting into buses and coaches for a 10-day leave after a training course, and they were wearing civilian clothes, police said.

"This was the first revenge for Osama\’s martyrdom. Wait for bigger attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

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"Two of our fedayeen (suicide bombers) carried out these attacks," he added.

The bombers blew themselves up outside a police training centre in Shabqadar town, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Peshawar in the northwest region where Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants repeatedly attack security forces.

Ahmad Ali, a wounded paramilitary policeman, recalled the horror when the explosions turned a festive Friday morning into a bloodbath.

"I was sitting in a van waiting for my colleagues. We were in plain clothes and we were happy we were going to see our families," he told AFP by telephone from Shabqadar hospital.

"I heard someone shouting \’Allah Akbar\’ and then I heard a huge blast. I was hit by something in my back shoulder. In the meantime I heard another blast and I jumped out of the van. I felt that I was injured and bleeding."

Police officials confirmed that at least 70 people had been killed, making it the first attack of such magnitude in Pakistan since November 5 when a suicide bomber killed 68 at a mosque in the northwest area of Darra Adam Khel.

"Both attacks were suicide attacks. The first suicide bomber came on a motorcycle and detonated his vest among the Frontier Constabulary (FC) men," said the police chief of the Charsadda district, Nisar Khan Marwat.

"When other FC people came to the rescue to help their colleagues, the second bomber came on another motorcycle and blew himself up."

He said that around 20 shops and 12 vehicles were destroyed in the intensity of the blasts and put the death toll at 70.

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"Sixty-five of them are from the paramilitary police. Five dead bodies of civilians were taken to Shabqadar hospital," he added.

The Pakistani Taliban last week threatened to attack security forces to avenge bin Laden\’s killing in a US helicopter raid north of the capital Islamabad.

There has been little public protest in support of bin Laden in a country where more people have been killed in bomb attacks in the past four years than the nearly 3,000 who died in Al-Qaeda\’s September 11, 2001 attacks.

But under growing domestic pressure to punish Washington for the bin Laden raid, Pakistan\’s civilian government said Thursday it would review counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States.

It was unclear if the move was intended as a threat, but it showed the extent of the task facing US Senator John Kerry as he prepares to embark on a mission to shore up badly strained ties with Washington\’s fractious ally.

Washington did not inform Islamabad that an elite team of Navy SEALs had helicoptered into the garrison town of Abbottabad until the commandos had cleared Pakistani airspace, carrying with them bin Laden\’s corpse.

The covert night-time raid has plunged Pakistani politics into turmoil with both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani are facing calls to resign.

Pakistanis have been outraged at the perceived impunity of the US raid, while asking whether their military was too incompetent to know bin Laden was living close to a major forces academy, or, worse, conspired to protect him.

Gilani chaired a defence committee meeting that decided "to institute an inter-agency process to clearly define the parameters of our cooperation with the US in counter-terrorism", an official statement said.

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Washington is pressing Islamabad to investigate how bin Laden and several wives and children managed to live for five years under the noses of its military in Abbottabad, just 40 miles (65 kilometres) north of the capital.

New details of the 40-minute raid on the high-walled compound have emerged according to CBS News, which said the SEALs recorded the action on tiny helmet-mounted cameras.

US officials who have seen the footage said the only firefight took place outside the main compound building, where one of bin Laden\’s couriers opened fire and was himself shot dead, it reported.

The commandos then fired at bin Laden when he appeared on a third floor landing, but missed and he retreated into a bedroom.

The first SEAL entered the room and pulled aside bin Laden\’s daughters who were there with him, while a second commando was confronted by one of his wives who either rushed him or was pushed in his direction, said CBS.

According to the report, that second commando pushed the wife out of the way and fired a round into bin Laden\’s chest, while a third shot bin Laden in the head.

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