Blast hits Pakistan army convoy, 15 soldiers dead

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MINGORA, Pakistan, Oct 25 (Reuters) Fifteen Pakistani soldiers were killed and 25 wounded when their convoy was hit by a suspected militant roadside blast in the northern district of Swat today police said.

The blast set fire to a truck loaded with ammunition and came a day after the military sent around 2,000 troops to the district in response to growing militant activity.

''Fifteen soldiers were killed and eight are seriously wounded,'' a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

State television reported a firefight broke out after the blast, the latest in a series of attacks on security forces in recent months which have killed hundreds of people.

Police said the blast was caused by a roadside bomb, but a senior security official said the cause was still being investigated.

The army said yesterday it was deploying 2,000 troops to the remote northwestern valley of Swat to counter Islamist militants trying to enforce Taliban-style laws there.

Militants have attacked security forces and carried out bomb attacks in recent months in the scenic valley in North West Frontier Province, and have been forcing residents there to follow a strict Islamic code.

Pakistani tribal areas have been a hotbed of support for al Qaeda and Taliban militants who have fled Afghanistan. Thousands of soldiers and militants have been killed in battles in these regions.

Violence has escalated across Pakistan since July, when militants scrapped a peace deal and the army raided a radical mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

Officials suspect Islamist militants were behind the worst blast in Pakistan's 60 years of history, when at least 139 people were killed in a suicide attack on a procession led by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in Karachi last week on her return from eight years of self-imposed exile.

REUTERS SYU VC1720

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