Ten killed in blast in Pakistan army building

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ISLAMABAD, Sep 13 (Reuters) At least 10 Pakistani soldiers were killed on Thursday in a powerful blast in an army building near the capital Islamabad, the military said, the second major incident involving the army this month.

The blast occurred in a building used by the army's elite Special Services Group (SSG) in the town of Tarbela Ghazi. President Pervez Musharraf, who is also army chief, has also served in the SSG.

''So far, we have reports that 10 soldiers have been martyred and several wounded,'' military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said.

A senior government official said the death toll could rise because several soldiers were critically wounded.

Arshad said it was being ascertained that whether the blast was caused by a gas cylinder or it was a bomb.

Pakistan has seen a wave of bomb and suicide attacks since an army assault in July on Islamabad's Red Mosque, known for its links with the Taliban militants.

More than 250 people, most of them members of security forces and police, have been killed in these attacks.

The latest violence coincided with the visit of US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte to Pakistan.

Earlier this month, 25 people, most of them staff members of an intelligence agency of the army, were killed in twin suicide attacks in Rawalpindi garrison town, adjoining Islamabad. Officials said evidence pointed to the involvement of al Qaeda-linked militants who are battling security forces in the tribal region near the Afghan border.

The security forces have killed up to 70 militants in battles in Waziristan tribal region over the past two days.

Musharraf, a staunch ally of the United States, is facing a deepening political crisis as he prepares to run for another term in office in the coming weeks.

Musharraf is under tremendous international and domestic pressure to quit his powerful position of army chief to become a civilian president.

Despite growing concern over Musharraf's hold on power, Negroponte praised Pakistan's campaign against terrorism in its own backyard and said Washington was committed to a long-term relationship with Islamabad.

Musharraf told Negroponte that there should never be any doubt in Pakistan's commitment to fighting extremism and militancy as ''it was in its own national interests''.

Reuters RAR DB2302

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