27 soldiers killed as schoolboy bomber hits Pak army centre

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A Muhammad

Peshawar, Feb 10 (PTI) A schoolboy suicide bomberlinked to Tehreek-e-Taliban penetrated an elite Pakistani armytraining centre in the country''s northwest today unleashingexplosives in the midst of a parade, killing 27 soldiers andleaving 40 more wounded.

"It was a suicide attack by a teenage bomber in schooluniform," said the area''s top police officer Abdullah Khangiving details of the early morning attack on the army''s elitePunjab Regimental Centre at Mardan.

He said 27 army personnel were killed and 40 othersinjured, most of them critically. An army spokesman confirmedthe incident but put the toll at 20.

Police said the condition of some of the injured wascritical and the toll could go up.

The hit on the Punjab Regimental Centre was one of theworst strikes on the Pakistan army deeply involved for lasttwo years in operations in the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhawaprovince bordering Afghanistan to flush out Taliban militants.

Khan said the schoolboy managed to sneak into thesprawling heavily-guarded compound carrying a lethal payloadapparently in his school bag and triggered the explosion asthe troops were readying for the daily parade.

Television quoted witnesses as saying that the blastwas so powerful that it blew soldiers away from the ground.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for theattack claiming it was a revenge for strikes by the US dronesin the tribal area and offensive by the Pakistan army in thearea.

But there was conflicting reports about the identityof the bombers. While police and military officials said thestrike was carried out by a schoolboy, the Taliban claimedthat it was the handiwork of a soldier, who had turned over.

Police said an examination of the body parts at thescene indicated that the bomber was a boy aged around 15.

It was not immediately clear how the bomber got intothe heavily guarded centre undetected. An attack on the samefacility in 2006 had killed 35 soldiers.

Troops sealed off the area and even policemen had adifficult time getting through. The local army hospitaldeclared an emergency as ambulances rushed in casualties.

The forces have taken charge of rescue operations andcivilian rescue agencies and media were notallowed entry into the heavily protected military facility.

Mardan is 50 kilometers away from the Mohmand tribaldistrict where the army recently launched a major attack.

Officials have said more than 25,000 people have fled the areain the past one week.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned theattack, saying "such cowardly attacks cannot affect the moraleof the security agencies and the resolve of the nation toeradicate terrorism." PTI MUH RHL AKD

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